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A 92 Series Beretta

U.S. Tells Rome that Iraqi Insurgents Are Using Italian Firearms

Due to the cleanly erased or non-existent serial numbers, investigators believe that the late-model Beretta firearms, similar to those carried by U.S. forces, were intended for people with “substantial government backing.”

By Nunzia Vallini

May 28, 2005

Original Article (English)    

BRESCIA: The report forwarded by American intelligence officers is brief and to the point: "Hostiles" in Iraq are toting Berettas. Insurgents have a large number of Italian-made side arms, all recent-model weapons, and what is even more disturbing, with illegible or non-existent serial numbers.

These phantom weapons were apparently of recent manufacture, but investigators have been unable to attribute them to legal imports during the early 1980s. The file has been forwarded by American intelligence to the Brescia public prosecutor's office, via the Italian secret services, and magistrates are determined to find where the weapons came from. Investigators have worked in total silence since an inquiry was opened in autumn 2004.

Yesterday, however, judicial police visited the Foreign Ministry with a warrant signed by Chief Public Prosecutor Giancarlo Tarquini for copies of documents.  All the Brescia-based magistrate would say is, “It is our duty within the context of a confidential investigation." 

At historic Gardone Val Trompia, where Beretta has been manufacturing firearms since 1526, the company claims to know nothing of the investigation. "We know absolutely nothing,” a spokesman said.

The documents taken regard legal exports made by Beretta over recent years. The aim seems to be to identify the channels through which the side arms traveled to end up in the hands of the "Iraqi resistance." The information gathered by the American armed forces is quite detailed. They have compiled a dossier on all weapons recovered from al-Qaeda militants and pro-Saddam insurgents since the start of operations in Iraq.

Some of the weapons caches found are impressive. In one of Saddam's Baghdad palaces, 4,000 9mm Italian pistols were discovered -- still in their original packaging. The Gardone Val Trompia Company signed an agreement with the Baghdad authorities in the 1970s for the manufacture of old series 70 and 51 pistols. However, the weapons found by the Americans are state-of-the-art 92 models, which are standard U.S. Armed Forces issue, among others. Since it won the contract to supply the American Army, Beretta has agreed to rigid checks by U.S. intelligence. However, Beretta weapons are also manufactured in the United States and Brazil, and for some time there have been rumors of a Chinese copy.

In fact, the United States has become a major market in side arms, because regulations governing the sale of handguns allow wholesalers to purchase very large quantities of weapons. The only difference is the price. The U.S. Marines pay $263 for a Beretta 92, but in Falluja, the going rate is $850 dollars.

The crucial detail is the erasure of the serial numbers. The numbers do not appear to have been physically removed. Instead, the guns seem to have come off the production line without any serial numbers, or they could have been erased with high-tech industrial technology. The lack of serial numbers suggests that the weapons were intended for intelligence operations or terrorist cells with substantial government backing.

The investigating magistrates in Brescia are reminded of an old inquiry by the Anti-mafia authority into a stock of Beretta pistols with no serial numbers, or with the serial numbers erased. The mystery involved preliminary investigations by Judge Carlo Palermo, but failed to reach any conclusions. Now the Americans face a similar quandary, but on a much larger scale. The total number of weapons found when Saddam fell, and recovered during anti-insurgency operations, runs into the many thousands. The final figure will certainly exceed 10,000, and the Brescia public prosecutor's office will have to try to shed light on their origin.

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