Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Beretta 92: Terrorists' standard-issue sidearm

Actually, the Italian handgun is standard issue for Marines and Navy SEALs as well, despite its persistent unpopularity. (Anti-9mm prejudice runs high in the military.) Millions have been manufactured and sold all around the world, mostly for law enforcement use. But where are the "insurgents" acquiring thousands of the latest model, fresh-out-of-the-box, sans serial numbers?

According to an article in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera (thanks to Watching America for spotting it), four thousand of the handguns were found in one of Saddam's palaces, and many more have turned up in the possession of those fighting against the U.S. and the new Iraqi government. The seized guns' lack of serial numbers "suggests to investigators that the weapons were intended for intelligence operations or terrorist cells with substantial government backing." The Italian gun manufacturer Beretta had legitimate contracts to sell Saddam Hussein other model guns prior to the first Gulf War, but probably would have been in violation of the EU arms embargo if it provided the Beretta 92's in question. (The 92 was first manufactured in the late 1970's, but the article says the ones found in Iraq are "state of the art," implying more recent manufacture.)

The fact that the U.S. has gone to Italy on this indicates that we think Beretta did in fact make them. It wouldn't be too hard to figure out if they were reverse-engineered Chinese knock-offs or legitimate copies made by licensed manufacturers like Taurus in Brazil. So what's going on? Was Beretta circumventing the arms embargo and risking its contract with the U.S. military? Not likely. The fact that they might have been intended "for intelligence operations" is telling. Insurgents and Baathist hold-outs could care less if a gun has a serial number. I think these guns got to Iraq via another nation's intelligence services. Hmmm, now who would do something like that? I'll give you trois guesses.

But seriously, how many knives in the back are we going to get? Let's hope the Beretta 92 trail leads away from Europe and not into it.


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