‘No Proof’ That Arms Found In Iraq Were Austrian: Weapons Firm
By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, VIENNA
Austrian arms manufacturer Steyr-Mannlicher insisted Feb. 13 that there was no proof that sniper rifles recently seized by U.S. troops in Iraq were the same ones it had sold amid controversy to Iran in 2004.
“We have not been contacted by the Americans. Usually one would ask us to verify the origin of a weapon through its serial number, something that is not the case here,” Franz Holzschuh, the new owner of the more than 100-year-old weapons company, told AFP.
“Our weapons are copied around the world. It’s just like with pharmaceuticals, there are lots of imitations,” he added.
Holzschuh’s comments came in response to a report in British newspaper The Daily Telegraph on Feb. 13 claiming that U.S. troops had found more than a hundred Steyr-Mannlicher sniper rifles during a Baghdad raid on insurgents The paper reported that the 50 caliber rifles, which are capable of penetrating body armor, were part of a shipment of 800 rifles exported by Steyr-Mannlicher to Iran in 2004.
Holzschuh however pointed out that the license for its HS50 rifles had “expired a long time ago,” making them easy to copy.
The company had received all the necessary permits from the Austrian ministries for the interior and foreign affairs for its rifle delivery to Iran, despite Washington’s attempts to stop the deal from going through, Holzschuh insisted.
Britain and the United States had condemned the sale when it originally happened because of their fears that the weapons, which the National Iranian Police Organisation said it was buying to use against drug smugglers, would find their way to insurgents in Iraq.
“Although we did make our worries known the sale unfortunately went ahead, and now the potential that these weapons could fall into the wrong hands appears to have happened,” a spokesman for the British foreign ministry was quoted as saying by the Telegraph.
The Austrian foreign ministry meanwhile said it could not confirm whether the weapons found were the Steyr-Mannlicher rifles sold to Iran.
“We have not been contacted neither by the Americans nor by the British” to verify the serial numbers, foreign ministry spokeswoman Astrid Harz told AFP.
“The contract in question was scrupulously examined by the foreign ministry in light of the situation at the time between the autumn of 2003 and the autumn of 2004,” Harz said.
The foreign ministry eventually provided the necessary permits for the deal, but Harz pointed out that given the different circumstances in the region now Steyr-Mannlicher would not have been permitted to go through with the deal today.
The Daily Telegraph report came days after top U.S. defense officials said that sophisticated Iranian-built bombs smuggled into Iraq have killed at least 170 U.S. and allied soldiers since June 2004 and wounded 620 more.
According to The Daily Telegraph, within 45 days of the HS50 Steyr-Mannlicher rifles arriving in Iran, a U.S. soldier in an armored vehicle was killed by an Iraqi insurgent using one of the weapons.
The U.S. government decided in 2005 to block all shipments of arms from the Austrian company to American authorities, but the embargo is due to expire next December 27, according to Holzschuh.