On February 24, the Cañonero operation of the Alicante Civil Guard seized an arsenal of 79 weapons handled by a habitual criminal who had knowledge of turning and he was capable of both rehabilitating disabled weapons and manufacturing parts from scratch. Despite the fact that arms trafficking in Spain is moderate or low, the Civil Guard detects a progressive increase in pistols, revolvers and war rifles mainly linked to drug trafficking. With the strong restrictions of Spanish legislation, organized groups resort to rehabilitation and Internet sales to armor their warehouses, steal material from other gangs or perpetrate account adjustments, according to two officers of the Civil Guard, the body responsible for the processing and control of firearms in Spain, and who prefer to hide their identity.
The alerts became more acute in December 2020, as a result of the Nongreta operation, carried out in Malaga, “which started from the detection of an increase in reckoning between drug traffickers with manipulated weapons” and in which the Civil Guard “dismantled a clandestine workshop for the manufacture of assault rifles”, recalls a captain of the Arms Trafficking Group of the Information Headquarters of the Special Central Unit (UCE3) of the armed institute. “They use them above all for the defense of the day care centers, the places where they hide and from where they distribute drug caches” and also to commit “overturns, drug thefts from other criminal groups.” “This class of organized criminals look for powerful weapons, with a silencer, the use of which is prohibited in Spain, and even hand grenades,” confirms the captain.
In the case of Alicante, adds a lieutenant from the Information group of the Alicante command, it was surprising “the volume of weapons found and that the detainee was able to manufacture them from scratch, without industrial parts, but from plans and models with which He replicated them with his knowledge as a turner”. They are artifacts “with an added danger”, since they are “totally anonymous” and do not appear in any registry. This operation, in which three arrests were made, also revealed that, although drug trafficking was based mainly in Campo de Gibraltar and the Costa del Sol, police pressure is pushing criminal gangs to other parts of the geography Spanish, mainly in the Levante and the south of Castilla-La Mancha.
Compared to other countries that are much more permissive, or like “in the United States, where the possession of weapons is a citizen’s right,” says the captain of the central unit, in Spain, where “the legislation is very restrictive, as a result of the terrorism, mainly from ETA”, it is not easy to get hold of a weapon. “First, because we are not a big manufacturer,” he says. “Criminals are interested in short weapons, such as pistols or revolvers, and war weapons, such as repeating rifles, and they are not manufactured here.” With the industrial reconversion, the existing gun shops closed. “Now there are only companies specialized in shotguns and hunting rifles,” continues the captain, “any other type of firearm comes from outside, even the regulations of the State security forces and bodies.”
And, finally, because “there have been no armed conflicts in nearby countries.” “The war in the Balkans, which generated large production and storage of weapons, affected the bordering countries,” says the Madrid official. Despite everything, as this newspaper already published last September, the National Police warned of the risk of an increase in illicit arms trafficking “in the short and medium term” from arsenals on both sides of the war in Ukraine. “And the Civil War arsenal, which still has fully functional weapons left in the hands of people who have already died and, in most cases, have been returned.”
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Therefore, the gangs must resort to the artisan manufacture or rehabilitation of weapons imported over the Internet “thanks to legal gaps and legislative differences existing in other countries.” “The main sources are Slovakia and the Czech Republic,” he details, “countries that during the Cold War armed themselves to the teeth and accumulated a lot of stock”. After the disappearance of the Soviet Union, “to get out of this arsenal they began to manipulate it to turn it into detonating blank weapons, but the disabling is easily reversible.” So much so that in Spain “the law had to be modified in 2017 so that these types of weapons were not freely traded either, and their purchase requires a large number of certificates and records,” he says.
On Christmas Day 2021, a 21-year-old man shot and killed his partner, a 25-year-old girl in Elche (Alicante). Days later, the National Police located him in a house where he had barricaded himself armed with a kalashnikov, the most famous assault rifle. “Without knowing the case in depth, it can be ensured that the origin is 20% from the Balkans, and 80% from Slovakia or the Czech Republic,” says the UCE3 official. “You buy an original AK-47 with a pin in the barrel that renders it useless, and then you revert to its use. The 2015 Paris attacks were also carried out with this type of weapon”. In a small percentage of cases, criminals use the “80% kit from the United States”, where “an 80% assembled part is considered not a weapon, so they sell these models that are missing the barrel, the slide and the frame in the case of pistols and the drum, instead of the slide, in the case of revolvers”. “But the purchase of these individual parts, in Spain, requires the same permits as a complete weapon”, which makes its expansion difficult.
The lieutenant of the Alicante command dismantles a myth, that of 3D printed weapons. “In Europe, none manufactured entirely with this system has been found, because there are parts that do not resist the pressure exerted when fired.” And he focuses on cyberspace. “The Internet has made everything easier and gives access to weapons both on the dark web and on sales pages for any product,” he warns. “It puts interested people in contact, who refer to forums for rehabilitated weapons and private chats for the sale.”
Where firearms are not usually found is in the area of terrorist cells, confirm the two officers. “In terrorism you don’t need a large infrastructure,” the lieutenant declares, “weapons are not necessary to create terror and chaos.” As an example, he gives the Barcelona cell, which, “although it had a hierarchical structure like that of ETA or the IRA, did not have weapons.” “Today’s terrorism usually attacks by means of lone wolves who generally do not have access to this type of weapon,” confirms the captain. “They use knives and vans because their main goal is to get attention.” “In Spain, since 11-M, they are not allowed to advance too much and the cell that uses firearms is rare,” he continues. However, both in the attacks on Charlie Hebdo or the Bataclan theater in Paris and in other French cases, manipulated weapons were found. “In the attacks in Carcassonne and Trèbes (France), on March 23, 2018, which left four dead and 15 injured, one of the terrorists used a Spanish-made weapon from 1915 that was still fully functional,” he recalls.
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