Murphy's Law: How Austria Supports Terrorists

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February16, 2007: The United States has captured nearly a hundred Austrian (Steyr-Mannlicher) HS50 12.7mm (.50 caliber) sniper rifles in Iraq. These rifles were part of a shipment of 800 sold to the Iran national police in 2005, at a cost of some $20,000 each. The Austrians believed that the Iranians wanted the rifles for use against Afghan and Pakistani drug smugglers. The United States saw the weapons as eventually being used against U.S. troops, and placed sanctions on Steyr-Mannlicher, forbidding it to do any business with the United States military.

While Iran has been under an arms embargo for decades, and is currently under pressure to halt development of nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles to deliver them with, the country does have some legitimate weapons needs. For example, Iranian troops have been fighting an increasingly bloody war with drug smugglers along their border with Afghanistan and Pakistan. This fighting gets particularly nasty because the drug smugglers are from Sunni tribes (usually Pushtun or Baluchi), that often believe the Shia Moslem Iranians are heretics. That makes the fighting about religion, as well as money. The fighting picked up after the Taliban were taken down in late 2001. Since then, the drug business has grown larger, and the smugglers saw Iran as a prime access route to European and Persian Gulf customers, as well as a good market in itself. With so many Iranians rapidly becoming drug addicts, the government sent thousands of troops and police to the Afghan and Pakistani borders, to try and stop the smugglers. This soon turned into an endless battle, as the smugglers would often try and fight their way past Iranian patrols, or even ambush Iranian forces. The smugglers also tended to have better weapons than the Iranians, as well as night vision devices and satellite telephones.

Iran makes a lot of its own small arms, but does not have the technical expertise to produce high tech things like .50 caliber sniper rifles, electronic sights for rifles, and other military electronics (ground radars and other sensors). Thus Iran has turned to smuggling and shady deals to get the high tech weapons it wants. Because of the Iranian nuclear weapons program, illegal, and legal, imports into Iran are closely watched by many intelligence organizations.

The United States has slapped sanctions on over a dozen companies caught supplying weapons to Iran. Six of them were Chinese. But Steyr-Mannlicher was providing equipment most likely to end up in the hands of terrorists attacking American troops. Steyr-Mannlicher insisted that the deal was legit. Steyr-Mannlicher says the United States has not asked for serial number information, and that the HS50 may have come from some other source. Steyr-Mannlicher insists it is not at fault, because the Iranian government signed an end-user agreement, promising not to export the weapons.

In Iran, the clerics have the final say on all political and military matters. Iranian agents have been regularly caught bringing weapons into Iraq. But Iraqi terrorists have been obtaining weapons from other sources as well. Even when Saddam was in power, there was smuggling, in both directions, across the Iran-Iraq border. Steyr-Mannlicher is even be criticized in Austria for being so naïve about what could happen to the HS50s is sold to Iran.

 


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