The question of how a gun legally imported by a US civilian gun dealer linked to the CIA ended up back in Paris is bound to fuel conspiracy theories
A gun linked to the Paris terror attacks that left 130 people dead and wounded 368 others has been traced back to a Florida arms dealer. It is the same arms dealer that sold arms to the Contras of Nicaragua at the time the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal.
The revelation came during an interview with the head of a Serbian arms factory, who said the M92 semi-automatic pistol’s serial number was the same as one that his company delivered to an American online arms dealer, Century International Arms, in May 2013.
“[It] is a semi-automatic weapon, a hunting and a sporting weapon … cannot fire barrage fire, only single shots … which are legal in America,” Milojko Brzakovic, head of the Zastava arms factory, told the Associated Press.
He said the gun was delivered as a semi-automatic but he did not know whether someone had turned it into an automatic after delivery. Brzakovic said his factory exports up to 25,000 hunting and sports guns every year, and all were delivered legally. The particular gun in question was exported to the Florida-based Century International Arms, but it is not clear how the gun got back to Europe.
Brzakovic said all arms exports from Serbia are under strict government control.
“We submit a request to our government to give consent and authorize the export. Until we receive that, we make no contact. Once we get permission to export, we make a contact and arrange the dynamics,” he told AP.
There are strict rules overseeing the legal import and export of weapons like semi-automatic pistols. In the US, an individual or company has to be registered with the State Department.
At least seven of the weapons used or discovered after the November 13 Paris attacks were produced by the Serbian factory. Most were manufactured before Yugoslavia broke up in a civil war in the 1990s and most were modified versions of the Soviet AK-47 or Kalashnikov.
The Palm Beach Post contacted Century owner Michael Sucher, but calls were not returned and doors at the company’s location in Delray Beach were locked. The company also has locations in the town of Georgia, Vermont.
The Post reported that Century is a buyer and re-seller of military-grade surplus guns and is one of the largest arms dealers in the US. Its specialty is buying weapons from overseas and reselling them to dealers.
This is not the first time Century International Arms has made news headlines, either. The Palm Beach Post reported the same dealer had benefitted from an illegal arms trade of pistols, sniper rifles and assault weapons with the help of “unauthorized brokers” – an Israeli arms dealer middleman. The weapons moved into the possession of Century from stock in a Guatemalan government warehouse in 2007, for $130 million.
The revelation came from information provided by WikiLeaks’ trove of secret diplomatic cables – the same cables said by the US government to have been provided by former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who is serving a 35-year sentence in prison for the leak.
An employee of the same arms dealer was involved in supplying arms, including rockets and grenades, to the Contras of Nicaragua during the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal under President Ronald Reagan.
There are other implications, too, including that Century Arms’ Romanian-manufactured WASR-10 rifle is a favorite with Mexican drug cartels. Hundreds have been linked to crimes in Mexico, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Brzakovic told AP it would be wrong to accuse Zastava of selling weapons to terrorists, but he agreed that an illicit gun deal could have taken place after the arms were delivered legally.
“Wherever there are wars, there are bigger possibilities for abuse and to hide channels for guns. They end up where they shouldn’t,” he said, adding, “We have a database in the factory for the last 50 years, we know where a gun has been delivered.”