Terrorists in Europe increasingly have access to firearms, including military-grade firearms. This is because access to firearms has become easier for criminals in several European countries and terrorists are using their criminal connections to obtain firearms on black markets.
These are some of the conclusions of the final report of Project SAFTE, which studied terrorist access to illicit gun markets in Europe. This report was published today by the Flemish Peace Institute (Belgium) and funded by the European Commission.
In recent years significant amounts of firearms, including military-grade firearms, have been seized from terrorist networks with various extremist ideologies. These terrorist weapon arsenals generally reflect the specific characteristics and dynamics of local criminal gun markets. Increased cross-border smuggling from post-conflict countries neighbouring the EU and legal loopholes regarding deactivated firearms and easy-to-convert blank firing guns within the EU, have increased the availability of certain types of firearms amongst criminals and terrorists.
Access to military-grade firearms is mostly limited to high-level criminals in most European countries, but the growing availability of such weapons on European black markets has made it easier for lower segments of the criminal hierarchy to obtain these firearms. “If it becomes easier for criminals to acquire military-grade firearms, it also becomes easier for terrorists with the right criminal connections to obtain them” says Nils Duquet, senior researcher at the Flemish Peace Institute. Terrorists, and especially jihadi terrorists, who want to obtain firearms tend to rely on pre-existing criminal connections, these connections often pre-date their radicalisation. “Terrorists who lack the right criminal connections or who operate in countries without a dynamic criminal gun market are required to take more risks if they wish to obtain guns. Putting constant pressure on criminal gun markets therefore increases the chances of criminals and terrorists getting caught.”
The SAFTE study shows that, in order to put constant pressure on criminal gun markets, it is crucial to coordinate and cooperate between and within European countries. A first step in that direction is closing legal loopholes within the EU, but this needs to be supported by sustained investments in the operational capacities of specialised law enforcement teams. Furthermore, priority should be given to uncovering the actors involved in firearm trafficking, which requires a good intelligence picture by improving data collection, registration and sharing. These policies designed to target illicit gun trafficking help to combat the use of firearms in terrorist attacks in particular, but will also contribute to the prevention of gun crime in general.
Project SAFTE reports
The Project SAFTE reports are available online:
Additional information on convertible firearms in Europe:
read the new the Small Arms Survey report available at http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/U-Reports/SAS-Report-Europe-Conversion.pdf
About Project SAFTE
Project SAFTE (Studying the Acquisition of Illicit Firearms by Terrorists in Europe) is an international research project funded by the European Commission. The research is conducted by an international network of firearms experts and is coordinated by the Flemish Peace Institute.
About the Flemish Peace Institute
The Flemish Peace Institute is an independent research institute dedicated to peace research and hosted by the Flemish Parliament (Belgium).
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Senior researcher Flemish Peace Institute
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