Police in Spain have showed off a huge arsenal of firearms seized in a Europol-backed operation that took place last month.
On 12-13 January, Spanish counter-terror officers carried out a series of raids in Bilbao, Gerona, Madrid and Valencia as part of an investigation into the illicit trafficking of firearms.
Operation Portu resulted in the seizure of more than 10, 000 guns and €80 000 in cash, as well as the arrest of five individuals suspected of being members of a major international weapons trafficking network.
The gang was said to have acquired deactivated firearms legally, before using the cover of a sporting equipment business to resell them along with parts and components that could be used to return then to a workable condition.
An illegal workshop that was used to reactivate firearms was also raided as part of the operation.
A large proportion of the weapons recovered were assault rifles similar to those used in the Charlie Hebdo atrocity and the November 2015 Paris attacks.
“Due to their characteristics, their calibre and their readiness for reactivation, the seized weapons had an easy journey in the black market and posed a significant risk of being acquired by organised crime groups and terrorists,” Europol said in a statement.
As well as assault rifles, the weapons cache also included handguns, anti-aerial machine guns, and over 400 shells and grenades.
Europol, which provided operational and technical support to the Spanish National Police during the raids, has seen a significant increase in the supply of these types of firearms to criminals and organised crime groups since 2014.
“Firearms traffickers exploit legal loopholes and differences in legislation between EU member states to divert firearms from legal suppliers,” Europe’s law enforcement agency said in a statement.
“The reactivation of deactivated weapons and conversion of blank-firing firearms are among the main sources of illegal firearms trafficked in the EU.”
In its Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) 2017, which was published last Thursday, Europol noted that recent terror attacks in Europe had highlighted the consequences of the illicit trade in firearms, which is able to thrive partly as a consequence of the EU’s borderless zone and the availability of a steady supply of decommissioned weapons left in Eastern Europe after the Balkans wars of the 1990s.
The SOCTA report observes how firearms traffickers are “highly adept at exploiting legal loopholes and differences in regulatory regimes between EU member states to divert firearms from legal suppliers”, as evidenced by the importation into Spain of the Operation Portu haul.
Terrorists and organised criminals are now increasingly using the dark web and the postal system to trade and traffic illegal firearms, with the latter now the most common way for weapons dealers to distribute their products, according to the report.
In February last year, a former senior British police officer warned that gun traffickers were increasingly using the postal system to send weapons in small parts to avoid detection, allowing recipients to reassemble them on delivery.