The seizure in Spain last week of a massive cache of lethal weapons highlighted just how easily organised criminals are able to move powerful firearms around the EU with relative ease. In an operation that took place over two days, Spanish police broke up a gang of weapons smugglers who were caught in possession of 12,000 guns worth an estimated €10 million.
Police said the gang obtained decommissioned weapons legally from dealers in the Balkans while posing as the owners of a sports firm. Once back in Spain, the group used a sophisticated workshop to return the weapons to a live condition and sold them on the black market. The traffickers bought assault rifles, handguns and heavy machine guns, some of which were capable of bringing down a passenger jet. Investigators said the group’s members were “very active”, and were happy to sell their guns to terrorists planning mass-casualty attacks.
Suggesting the further development of a worrying new trend, Spanish detectives revealed the weapons the gang was selling originated from the same source as those used in the 2015 Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks. In fact, the investigation into the gang‘s activities began after police analysed the weapons used by the Daesh-supporting Islamist extremist who carried out the deadly 2014 attack on a Jewish museum in Brussels, which resulted in the deaths of four people.
Like the firearms the Spanish gang was caught with, the guns used in all of these attacks are thought to have originated from the Balkans, which was left awash with weapons after the 1990s conflicts that led to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. As well as selling weapons to organised criminals and terrorists, arms dealers from countries such as Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Slovakia, Serbia and Romania have also been accused of shipping assault weapons to countries in the Middle East that are known to have exported arms to Syria.
Last year in the UK – which has incredibly tight gun control laws – members of a separate organised criminal gang were handed lengthy jail terms after they were found guilty of attempting to smuggle 31 machine guns and more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition into Britain by boat. As with the weapons seized during last week’s raids in Spain, the British gang’s haul was also said to have been sourced from the same suppliers that provided the weapons used in the Charlie Hebdo attack. The seizure was the largest-ever cache of illegal weapons found on the UK mainland, the UK’s National Crime Agency said.
The fact that these weapons are making their way into the hands of organised criminals who have no qualms at all about selling them on to terrorists planning mass-casualty attacks on civilian targets is hugely troubling. At a time when the threat to Europe from Islamist terrorism has never been higher, the ease with which these types of firearms can be obtained and moved around Europe should be a major concern for EU policymakers. While the UK is relatively protected from the importation of weapons that could be used in marauding gun attacks thanks to the English Channel, it seems as though both organised criminals and terrorists alike can take high-powered assault rifles across borders in the Schengen Area with near impunity.
For its part, the European Commission last month reached a provisional agreement on a revision of current EU rules on firearms, putting forward a number of measures designed to make it more difficult for illegal firearms to be moved between member states. The proposals included plans to better track legally-held firearms in an effort to make sure they do not fall into the wrong hands, but were reportedly radically watered down as a result of lobbying from various European gun and rifle associations. Unbelievably, the proposed directive failed to ban the most dangerous semi-automatic firearms such as the AK47, the exact same weapons that were used in the terror attacks that prompted the review of EU gun laws in the first place.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the agreement represented “a milestone in gun control in the EU”, despite the fact it contained no plans to outlaw the jihadi weapon of choice when it comes to large-scale marauding gun attacks. While the commission’s watered down directive may go some way towards stopping handguns falling into the hands of amateur lone wolf fanatics such as the Tunisian migrant who carried out the terror truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market in December, it will do little to prevent assault weapons being obtained by more serious extremists who enjoy direct support from groups such as Daesh or al-Qa’ida.
Contrary to protests from pro-gun groups, there is absolutely no reason why anybody in Europe should need to use – let alone own – a semi-automatic weapon such as an AK-47. All the while these and similar weapons remain legal in the EU, organised criminals will find it easier to illegally smuggle them into member states, and ultimately sell them on to Islamist extremists hell-bent on killing as many European kaffirs as their powerful assault rifles will allow.