Counter-terror police in Spain have seized 12,000 firearms that experts fear could have been used in a major terror attack on European soil.
Supported by Europol, officers from Spain’s national police force impounded the huge cache, which included weapons capable of bringing down a passenger jet.
The heavy machine guns, assault rifles and handguns – said to be worth €10 million – were legally purchased as decommissioned firearms and returned to full operational use illegally by a weapons trafficking gang.
Raids in Bilbao, Cantabria and Gerona resulted in the recovery of the fearsome arsenal, along with more than €80,000 in cash. Four men and a woman were arrested as part of the operation, which police said was the culmination of a lengthy investigation.
All of those held were Spanish nationals, and were arrested in Olot, Liendo, Galdacano and Guecho, where the illegal workshop that was used to return the weapons to an active condition was discovered.
The gang was found in possession of stamps and other items its members used to forge reactivation certificates.
Police said the trafficking gang was “very active”, and appeared to have no qualms over selling their weapons to terrorists.
Tweeting a video clip of the seized weapons, Spanish police said: “These are the 12,000 weapons, some capable of bringing down aircraft, intercepted from organised crime. Their price: €10 million on the black market.”
A spokesperson for the Spanish government said: “This modus operandi used to purchase weapons is the same as the one used for the attacks carried out in Paris on 7 January, 2015, against employees of the satirical weekly ‘Charlie Hebdo’, in which 12 people were killed and another 11 injured, all with recommissioned weapons acquired at the time from a Slovak gunsmith.”
The official said the operation was linked to the analysis of weapons used during a terror attack on a Jewish museum in Brussels in 2014, during which four people were killed by a French national who is said to have pledged allegiance to Daesh.
Police in Spain are continuing a crackdown on the illegal sale of lethal firearms to terrorists and criminal gangs, the country’s government said.
In May last year, Europol warned that Islamist extremists linked to groups such as Daesh were attempting to build up stockpiles of weapons and explosives in Europe that could be used in large-scale terror attacks, such as the Charlie Hebdo atrocity and the November 2015 Paris attacks.
Experts have previously said the EU’s borderless zone allows weapons smugglers to move firearms between nations with relative ease, and that the large number of decommissioned weapons left in Eastern Europe after the Balkans wars of the 1990s are being exploited by smugglers and terrorists alike.