Criminal groups in Europe are entering an arms race which is likely to make it easier for extremists and terrorists to gain access to military grade firearms, according to a report funded by the European Commission, cited by The Guardian.
The report warns that conventional barriers to obtaining weapons in Europe’s black market have “broken down,” with criminal gangs reactivating blank-firing advanced weapons and carrying out cross-border smuggling operations to tap into the lucrative arms trade.
Improved access to firearms, potentially even automatic weapons, poses a whole new threat to Europe’s national security and could result in deadlier terror attacks. After all, the bloodiest terror attack in Europe, which occurred in Paris in 2015, utilized such firearms, in addition to explosives, leaving over 130 people dead.
The firearms used in the Paris attacks were stolen from ex-military stockpiles in the Balkans and ended up in the hands of criminals Belgium, before they were sold to terrorists in France. Weapons used in these attack deadly attacks include a number of handguns and assault rifles of the AK-47 range.
This is also true for the 2015 Paris attacks, as some of the attackers were formerly active in the drugs and arms trade.
“In western Europe the traditional closed character of criminal gun markets has partially eroded in recent years and we have observed an increased availability of military-grade firearms. These weapons have then also ended up in hands of terrorists,” the report’s editor, Nils Duquet, said.
The issue of firearms being stolen from licensed, legitimate owners is another cause for concern.
The absence of armed police who are readily available to quickly counter such attacks could result in even higher death tolls if terrorists can gain access to advanced weapons, as standard police officers could potentially be outgunned.
A separate recently released report carried out by the Small Arms Survey found that criminals and terrorists are increasingly making use of weapons which were used in the Yugoslav wars smuggled to southeastern Europe, in addition to arms originating from EU member states.
*Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State) is a terrorist group banned in Russia.