Some 700 firearms – including rocket launchers and machine guns – were recovered last week as a result of two major intelligence-led operations targeting criminal networks active in 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 40 weapons, including military projectiles and detonators, were seized in Slovenia and Croatia, and 33 suspects detained in a series of coordinated raids on June 14. 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 two-year-long investigation uncovered that the Slovenian organized crime network, with the help of its Croatian accomplices, organized 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 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Europol to combat the Western Balkan organized crime network known as the “Balkan cartel.”
Meanwhile, more than 600 police officers were involved in the Operation ARMES 72 roundup that took place between June 12-14 in more than 50 locations across France. Some 100 house searches were carried out, 30 suspects arrested and more than 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 more than 1,200 weapons in December 2017.
Information gathered during these two operations will now be analyzed by Europol in order to identify potential links with other criminal or terrorist activity across Europe and beyond.