Austrian rifles used in Iraq, reports say
dpa German Press Agency
Published: Tuesday February 13, 2007

Vienna- Reports of US soldiers confiscating around 100 Austrian-made sniper rifles in Iraq have not yet been confirmed by Austrian officials. Spokespersons for both the interior and foreign ministries and the manufacturer stressed that they had not yet received any official information on whether the weapons really originated in Austria.

Astrid Harz of the Foreign Ministry said the Austrian government's approval of the deal in late 2004 "had been legal and correct based on the Austrian legal regulations."

Iran's security forces said that the guns would be used to fight drug-trafficking in its border regions. Rudolf Gollia, a spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry stressed that the end-use certificate had been double-checked with Iranian ministries.

"If a certificate is confirmed by the authorities you have to trust it ... or ban weapons production and exports completely," Gollia said.

A total of 100 HS50 Steyr-Mannlicher rifles were discovered during raids in Baghdad, the British Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday quoting US military sources. The guns come from a batch of 800 of the 50-calibre rifles sold by Steyr-Mannlicher to the Iranian security forces in 2005. A representative of Steyr-Mannlicher said the matter would be investigated.

At the time, the sale was condemned by the United States and Britain for fears the guns could be smuggled into Iraq and used by insurgents there. The United States imposed a one-year embargo on the Austrian weapons manufacturer after the sale.

Franz Holzschuh, Steyr-Mannlicher's new owner, said he had no evidence that the rifles in question were produced by his company. So far, there had been none of the official inquiries common in such cases, he told the Austrian Press Agency.

Apart from that, the patent for the rifle expired a few years ago, so it could just as well be a copy.

Green Party MP Peter Pilz, an outspoken critic of the deal in 2005, said his initial concerns had been confirmed and said that "first grade terrorst weapons" were delivered to terrorist sympathizers in Iran.

The members of Schuessel's cabinet were responsible for the deal, he charged.

According to The Daily Telegraph, British officials now see their initial fears that the weapons could end up in the wrong hands confirmed.

The 12-kilogramme Steyr-Mannlicher HS50 is a large-calibre precision gun which can be easily assembled and disassembled, the manufacturer said. It can pierce body armour or armoured troop transporters from a distance of up to 1,500 metres.

Each gun costs around 15,000 euros (19,500 dollars).

In 2005 and 2006, no exports to Iran were approved, as the geopolitical situation in Iran changed, the Austrian Interior Ministry said.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency