France smashes ‘exceptionally large’ arms smuggling network

AK-47sBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An arms smuggling network described by authorities as “exceptionally large” has been smashed in a series of raids across France. Over 45 suspects were arrested and “hundreds of weapons, including machine guns” were seized by French gendarmes early on Monday. French police officials said most of the detainees are suspected traffickers from Eastern Europe, while confiscated evidence includes “weapons of war [meaning fully automatic assault rifles], ammunition and spare parts”. French investigators said the smuggling network had trafficked hundreds of weapons from Balkan countries and Slovakia into France in the past five years. The raids are said to have involved over 300 gendarmes in several simultaneous operations in Paris, in the Rhone, Provence, as well as in Corsica and in several French overseas territories. The police raids marked the culmination of a nationwide investigation that began in early 2012. It focused on a group of 45 ‘gun collectors’, who were found to be using their collector status as a façade in order to illegally acquire assault weapons. The weapons would then be funneled into criminal gangs across France. A near-unprecedented influx of military-grade weapons, especially Kalashnikov assault rifles, has been noted across Europe in recent years. Much of it has been blamed on the rise in demand and availability for such weaponry caused by revolutions in Libya, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world. In early November, the Greek Coast Guard seized a cargo ship carrying over 20,000 AK-47s, allegedly bound for Syria or Libya. The ship, named Nour-M, and flagged under Sierra Leone, had set sail from Ukraine and was believed to be en route to Turkey. But it was intercepted while passing through Greek territorial waters. A recent analysis by the Reuters news agency said Syria and Libya have become the destinations of choice for “massive arms smuggling”. At the same time, the demand in North Africa and the Middle East has helped increase the productivity, sophistication and operational reach of Eastern European smuggling networks. The report quoted Masood Karimipour, North Africa and Middle East representative for the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, who said that the situation had produced “a perfect storm of money, conflict, instability and illicit supply and demand”.

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