Isis terrorists operating in Iraq and Syria may be using weapons exported to the Middle East by the UK, according to a new report.
Assault weapons and small arms sent from Britain to Iraq in the wake of the 2003 invasion may have ended up in the hands of the militant Islamic group, the research carried out by human rights organisation Amnesty International says.
Drawing on expert analysis of thousands of videos and images, the report concludes that IS fighters have access to a “substantial arsenal” of arms and ammunition designed or manufactured in more than 25 countries. Their weapons include US military issue M16 rifles, Austrian and Russian sniper rifles and Chinese and Belgian machine guns, it says.
Many of the weapons acquired by IS are likely to have been given to Iraqi security forces by various western countries between 2003 and 2007, the report claims, before falling into the terrorists’ hands after they captured Iraqi military compounds.
Highlighting the UK’s role in the supply of guns, it says that “a variety of small arms and light weapons” were exported from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia to the UK in 2005 and 2006, before being “re-exported” to Iraq. Some 20,000 Chinese assault weapons were also shipped to Iraq from the UK in early 2007, and many of the guns later “went astray”.
“Decades of free-flowing arms into Iraq meant that when IS took control of these areas, they were like children in a sweetshop. The fact that countries including the UK have ended up inadvertently arming IS should give us pause over current weapons deals,” said Oliver Sprague, Amnesty UK’s arms programme director.
“Risks need to be far more carefully calculated, and we shouldn’t wait for this worst case scenario to happen before acting to prevent sales of arms which could fuel atrocities.”
While many of the weapons used by IS are relatively modern, most of the guns at the terrorists’ disposal were manufactured at least a quarter of a century ago, the report says. The oldest piece of kit in their arsenal is believed to be a British 1914 Enfield Pattern bolt-action rifle, which may have been used in the First World War.
A Government spokeswoman said: “The Government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. Daesh’s operations in Syria and Iraq have unfolded against the backdrop of a permissive security environment in which a wide variety of arms and vehicles have flowed for decades. Daesh primarily procures weaponry by looting equipment from its opponents, and also benefits from local and regional black markets. Further capture of state military equipment by Daesh remains a possibility, until we can carry out the action to deny them space and safe haven.”