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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Italy foils 'arms for Iraq plot'

By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

Italian police say they have broken up a major arms trafficking ring that was planning to supply thousands of weapons to insurgents in Iraq.

They say the group involved had connections in Malta, Russia, Libya and China and some of those arrested were wealthy businessmen working in exports.

This began as a routine drugs investigation.

But soon police in the central Umbria region realised they had stumbled across something far more significant.

So far they have arrested 16 people - 12 on suspicion of drug dealing but four on allegations they were intending to supply arms.

Police from the anti-Mafia unit say they were planning to move 500,000 AK 47 assault rifles and 10 million pieces of ammunition.

The weapons, they said, had been sourced in China during what looked like routine business trips.

The coded emails recovered suggest the weapons were to be moved through Libya and on to Iraq.

Some of those arrested are wealthy businessmen involved in the export business, though the Italian ministry of defence says they had no permission to move arms.

Police in the Umbrian town of Terni, where the arrests were made, said there was a link between the gang and people working for a senior Libyan diplomat.

No weapons were confiscated during the enquiry and it is not thought any had yet been sent.
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