Kalashnikovs Used in Paris Terror Attacks ‘Were Made in Bulgaria’
The Kalashnikov machine guns used in the terror attacks in Paris last Friday were manufactured in Bulgaria, reports Bulgarian National Television (BNT).
The state-owned media channel cited a “reliable insider source” from the country’s secret services in its news broadcast late Wednesday evening.
Little has so far been confirmed about the automatic rifles. The reports suggest they were made in Bulgaria in the 1980s, under the country’s socialist regime.
BNT reported that it was unclear if they were purchased directly from Bulgaria or somewhere else, but said intelligence services were in the process of exchanging more information.
It is possible the arms were sold and delivered to the Middle East years ago, according to the broadcast.
Three Kalashnikov guns used in the attacks in Paris were discovered by French law enforcement in an abandoned Seat automobile in the suburb of Montreuil. The car was found parked in a space where, a few years ago, there had been a mosque.
During the country’s socialist era, the Bulgarian Kalashnikov was manufactured in what was then called the Friedrich Engels factory (now run by a private company named Arsenal) in the town of Kazanlak. There were even limited editions with the original signature of General Mikhail Kalashnikov.
Speaking to channel Nova TV on Thursday morning, Bulgarian counter-terrorism expert Slavcho Velkov said Islamist groups and organizations throughout Syria and Iraq did indeed hold weapons that were made in Bulgaria.
“The road of the weapons is easy and legal. There is a ‘government’ stand at Sofia Airport where 70 to 80 tons of weapons are loaded on a cargo aircraft and sent to Saudi Arabia, and then to Iraq and from there they are distributed to the ‘moderate opposition’ in the region. And when the moderate opposition is defeated in battles, the weapons turn into the hands of Islamic State. This is a fully official trade,” said Velkov.
Speaking later to the Bulgarian state-owned radio, Bulgarian National Radio (BNR), the CEO of the now-private factory Arsenal, Nikolay Ibushev, said his company had never exported Kalashnikovs made prior to 1990.
He recalled and confirmed that Kalashnikov guns were indeed made in the same factory until 1985, but he could not tell how and where they were traded at the time.
“Only the state company of the socialist regime that was dealing with the sales of weapons abroad can give an answer to that, while hardly anyone can say how the guns ended in the hands of terrorists,” said Ibushev.
He explained that the machine guns made by Arsenal since the fall of communism did not bear the label Kalashnikov, dismissing claims that his company had been arming Islamic State as “nonsense”.
“We are making good investments, our production is of high quality and in demand all over the world. No wonder the terrorists might want them too. Arsenal has a big market, particularly in the United States,” the CEO said.
Speaking Thursday at a public event, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov told journalists that the type of Kalashnikov found in Paris has not been exported from Bulgaria within the last 15 to 20 years.
He said it was possible that some automatic rifles could have been sold in the 1980s and could have “remained somewhere, but this was only a hypothesis”.
According to Borisov, if French authorities wanted to establish the origin of the Kalashnikovs, they should send them to Bulgaria to have Bulgarian experts examine them.
Defense minister Nikolay Nenchev promised a probe.
There is a long-standing dispute between Bulgaria and Russia over the automatic rifles produced by Arsenal, with Russian arms manufacturers claiming they are “fakes”.
According to Vladimir Grodetski, the late director general of the Russian Izhmash (firm producing Kalashnikovs), the USSR granted licenses to produce the guns to a number of former socialist countries such as Bulgaria, Poland and Romania, but they have long expired and the continued production is pure “piracy”.
Arsenal CEO Ibushev insists that his factory is making new, modern machine guns based on the Russian AK-47, but with many improvements and upgrades. He says they are in line with international and NATO standards and that their patent and license are completely separate from the Russian company.
By Maria Guineva in Sofia