Some 700 firearms – including rocket launchers and machine guns, were recovered last week as a result of two major intelligence-led operations supported by Europol targeting the criminal networks active in the illicit arms trafficking in Europe. The suppliers of the weapons were identified and arrested, and the networks that supported them dismantled in this latest hit against firearms traffickers.
Led by the Slovenian authorities, Operation KOLUMBI involved hundreds of police officers collaborating across Croatia, Slovenia and Spain to intercept illicit firearms and identify and dismantle the network supplying them
Some forty weapons, including military projectiles and detonators were seized in Slovenia and Croatia, and 33 suspects detained in a series of coordinated raids on 14 June. House searches were carried out in Spain by the Guardia Civil with the support of the Croatian Police following the seizure of an arms cache in Italy in April. A Europol mobile office was deployed to Slovenia, allowing for the real-time exchange of information between all involved parties.
The 2-year long investigation uncovered that the Slovenian organised crime network, with the help of its Croatian accomplices, organised the smuggling of weapons and ammunition via couriers from Slovenia to Italy, France and Spain.
Operation KOLUMB is part of a broader European strategy developed by EU law enforcement authorities, the US Drug Enforcement Administration and Europol to combat the Western Balkan organised crime network known as the "Balkan cartel".
Operation ARMES 72
Over 600 gendarmes were involved in the Operation ARMES 72 roundup that took place between 12-14 June in over 50 locations across France. Some 100 house searches were carried out, 30 suspects arrested and over 700 weapons seized, including 50 machine guns and 250 handguns. Investigators also recovered explosives and rocket launchers. The weapons, which were illegally owned, were on a number of occasions found hidden behind false walls, carved out books or fake water heaters.
Two Europol mobile offices were deployed on-the-spot during this operation, which is a follow-up of an earlier operation of the same kind which allowed for the seizure of over 1 200 weapons in December 2017.
Information gathered during these two operations will now be analysed by Europol in order to identify potential links with other criminal or terrorist activity across Europe and beyond.
In 2010 the European Union set up a four-year Policy Cycle to ensure greater continuity in the fight against serious international and organised crime. In 2017 the Council of the EU decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for the 2018 - 2021 period. It aims to tackle the most significant threats posed by organised and serious international crime to the EU. This is achieved by improving and strengthening cooperation between the relevant services of EU Member States, institutions and agencies, as well as non-EU countries and organisations, including the private sector where relevant. Illicit arms trafficking is one of the priorities for the Policy Cycle.