Spanish police have seized more than 10,000 weapons of war, including assault rifles, anti-aircraft machine guns, shells and grenades, destined for criminal and terrorist groups in Europe.
The massive haul was seized by Spanish National Police with help from Europol in January, but its scale was only announced on Tuesday (local time) because of the time it took to compile a complete inventory, a police statement said. Five people have been arrested.
Among the cache, police also found hundreds of pistols and revolvers due for modification and “reactivation”, as well as spare parts, machines for repairs, tools for changing the weapons’ serial numbers and devices for falsifying documents in an illegal workshop.
The weapons were found in the Spanish city of Girona and in undisclosed locations in the provinces of Bizcay and Cantabria.
Europol said the organised crime group sold deactivated firearms which did not comply with existing deactivation standards, as well as live-firing firearms.
“The armament was acquired mainly through legally established channels and later reactivated,” the organisation said.
Police concluded the weapons were destined for the black market, given their type, calibre and automatic nature and the fact they could be easily reactivated on delivery and with the addition of parts shipped separately.
Europol said the group sold weapons into Spain and other European countries like France and Belgium. A large part of the haul, 9000 machine guns, were Spanish-made. Over 400 shells and grenades, and components such as barrels, were also seized.
The BBC reported a sports store was used as a front for the group’s distribution centre and €80,000 ($112,000) in cash was also seized.
Investigators from Operation Portu arrived at the arsenal while tracing weapons used in a terrorist attack at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in 2014, which killed four people.
The seizure is believed to be among the biggest in the world.
In 2014, Chinese police claimed a record haul of around 10,000 guns and 120,000 knives. The latest United Nations report on the global trafficking of weapons shows Mexico and Brazil seized 14,467 and 13,048 weapons in total each in a whole year, 2013. Only Colombia seized more weapons that year – 38,236 – with most other countries reporting less than 4500 weapons confiscated yearly.