Dozens of illegal guns seized in West Bank crackdown
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Dozens of illegal guns seized in West Bank crackdown

IDF, police, Shin Bet conduct raids in Bethlehem, Hebron as part of ongoing campaign against illicit weapons

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

In the largest operation of the year, Israeli security forces seized dozens of weapons, confiscated equipment and made arrests in Hebron and Bethlehem early Tuesday morning as part of an ongoing effort to crack down on illegal guns in the West Bank, an IDF official said.

In total, seven illegal gun workshops were raided and 22 pieces of gunsmithing machinery — drill presses and metal lathes — were seized, along with “approximately 50 weapons,” including handguns, shotguns, hunting rifles and Carlo-style submachine guns, a cheap and simple automatic weapon loosely based off the design of the Carl Gustav submachine gun, the official said.

Security forces also recovered ammunition and dozens of gun pieces — grips, barrels, stocks, etc. — that would have been used to create more weapons, the official added.

Two of the alleged manufacturers were arrested in the raids. The suspects do not appear to be connected to any terrorist groups, but were more likely driven by financial motives, the army source said.

“It seems to be a combination of market demand and the ability to manufacture,” he said.

The IDF, along with the police and Shin Bet security service, seizes machinery believed to have been used to create illegal weapons in Bethlehem and Hebron on August 23, 2016, as part of a large crackdown effort on illicit guns in the West Bank. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
The IDF, along with the police and Shin Bet security service, seizes machinery believed to have been used to create illegal weapons in Bethlehem and Hebron on August 23, 2016, as part of a large crackdown effort on illicit guns in the West Bank. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Though the tools necessary to create Carlo-style submachine guns are “dual purpose” and can be found in almost any machine shop in the world, the factories raided early Tuesday morning appeared to be “specifically designed for the manufacturing of weapons,” the IDF official said.

More arrests are expected to come, as Shin Bet and Israel Police investigators will now begin interrogating the two suspects in order to locate the manufacturing and distribution network, the official said.

Dozens of illegal weapons seized by Israeli security forces in Bethlehem and Hebron on August 23, 2016, as part of a large crackdown effort on illicit guns in the West Bank. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Dozens of illegal weapons seized by Israeli security forces in Bethlehem and Hebron on August 23, 2016, as part of a large crackdown effort on illicit guns in the West Bank. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The joint operation was conducted between 1 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. by five battalions from the Israel Defense Forces — the elite Duvdevan unit, the Nahal Brigade’s 50th Battalion, soldiers from an artillery battery and two reservist battalions — along with representatives from the Israel Police and Shin Bet security service, according to spokespeople for the organizations.

IDF soldiers break into a workshop believed to have been used to create illegal weapons in Bethlehem and Hebron on August 23, 2016, as part of a large crackdown effort on illicit guns in the West Bank. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF soldiers break into a workshop believed to have been used to create illegal weapons in Bethlehem and Hebron on August 23, 2016, as part of a large crackdown effort on illicit guns in the West Bank. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The raids in Bethlehem and Hebron were the culmination of months of gathering “signal intelligence, human intelligence and visual intelligence,” an IDF official said.

There was no immediate indication that any of the guns sold by the two alleged manufacturers were specifically sold for use in terror attacks. These types of guns can be used for any number of reasons, including terrorist attacks, self-defense and criminal activity, the IDF official said.

However, a weapon purchased for self-defense can still end up being used in a terror attack, the official added.

“Someone who has one of these weapons at home [for self-defense] might hide it in a closet. And when his son gets carried away by incitement, he goes and takes this weapon to carry out attacks,” the officer said.

IDF soldiers, along with the police and Shin Bet security service, seize dozens of illegal weapons in Bethlehem and Hebron on August 23, 2016, as part of a large crackdown effort on illicit guns in the West Bank. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF soldiers, along with the police and Shin Bet security service, seize dozens of illegal weapons in Bethlehem and Hebron on August 23, 2016, as part of a large crackdown effort on illicit guns in the West Bank. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

This year over 30 shooting attacks have been carried out with illegally produced weapons. In response, the IDF and other security agencies have been cracking down on illegally produced weapons in recent months, arresting more than 140 people suspected of being involved in the creation or distribution of illicit arms, police said.

Over 300 illegal guns and nearly 50 pieces of manufacturing equipment have also been confiscated in raids across the West Bank in recent months, according to police.

The ongoing crackdown has already had an effect on the market, driving up the price of guns Col. Roman Gofman told the Associated Press last month. For example, a crude Carlo-style submachine gun cost around $500 a few months ago, whereas now it can cost upward of $2,500, he said.

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