Americans have collated details of all 9-mm Beretta pistols taken from Al Qaeda militiamen and insurgents since the start of the conflict. Inquiry by Brescia public prosecutor's office.
Corriera della Sera
June 3, 2005
By Nunzia Vallini
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. Apparently, these phantom weapons were manufactured in the recent past. Investigators are unable to attribute them to legal imports during the early 1980s. The file has been forwarded by the American intelligence service to the public prosecutor's office in Brescia, via the Italian secret services. Magistrates are determined to find out where the weapons come from. An inquiry was opened in autumn 2004 and investigators have worked so far in total silence.
But yesterday, judicial police visited the Foreign Ministry with a warrant for the acquisition of copies of documents, signed by the chief public prosecutor, Giancarlo Tarquini. "It is our duty in the context of a confidential investigation", is all the Brescia-based magistrate will say. At Gardone Val Trompia, the historic locations where Beretta has been manufacturing arms since 1526, the company claims to know nothing about the investigation. "We do not know absolutely anything". The documents taken regard legal exports made by Beretta in recent years. The aim may be to identify the channels through which the side arms ended up in the hands of the "Iraqi resistance". The information gathered by the American armed forces is very detailed. They have compiled a dossier on all the weapons recovered from Al Qaeda militants and pro-Saddam insurgents since the start of operations in Iraq.
Some of the arsenals are impressive. In one of Saddam's Baghdad palaces, 4,000 9-mm Italian pistols were discovered still in their original packaging. The Gardone Val Trompia company stipulated an agreement with the authorities in Baghdad in the 1970s, when a licence was issued 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 issue to the U.S. armed forces, among others. Since it won the contract to supply the American army, Beretta has undergone rigid checks by the U.S. intelligence service. However, Beretta weapons are also manufactured in the United States and Brazil, and for some time there have been rumours of a Chinese copy. In fact, the United States has become the focus of the parallel market in side arms as regulations governing the sale of hand guns allow wholesalers to purchase very large quantities of weapons. The only difference is the price. The U.S. Marines pay 263 dollars 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 at all, or to have had them erased with industrial technology. The detail suggests to investigators 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 Antimafia 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 to 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.
English translation by Giles Watson