Where did the Vienna terrorist’s AK-47 come from?

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The Vienna Islamic terrorist who killed four people in a shooting rampage Monday evening was — in addition to a machete and a pistol — armed with the most common assault rifle in existence: the Soviet-origin AK-47. Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet looks at the sources where this particular weapon could have come from.

The Austrian authorities are looking for a needle in the haystack to find out where the 20-year-old radical ISIS sympathizer Kujtim Fejzulai got his AK-47 assault rifle from, which he used in the massacre in downtown Vienna.

The Vienna-born son of Albanian parents in northern Macedonia is most likely posing on his own Instagram page with the AK-47 he used on Monday. The basic type of Kalashnikov was produced in hundreds of millions of copies in some socialist countries of the Soviet Union as well as the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. The upgraded versions are also produced in the millions in Poland and Hungary, among others, and the Chinese have produced the weapon and are still producing all modern versions of it today.

The AK-47 was also the most widespread small arms weapon of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization. Most of the assault rifles were looted from Syrian government forces or received from anti-government insurgents. These AKs went directly to Baghdad or to Syrian opposition forces while a large number also arrived from Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and, in some cases, Slovakia, China, Russia, and even the United States.

After ISIS had been defeated, large numbers of handguns were left on the battlefields by terrorists fleeing or being taken prisoner. Examining the weapons in 2017, the international organization Conflict Armament Research determined where they originally came from. According to the analysis, there were 112 Hungarian-made AK-63 Fs among them.

The AK-47 (along with improved domestic versions) was the regular small arm weapon in the Yugoslav People’s Army, which means it was a protagonist of the Yugoslav War — also known as the South Slavic War — in the 1990s and used by all parties of the conflict. It is still present in large quantities in the successor states, of which Bosnia and Herzegovina is particularly important in this respect. Indeed, it is estimated that thousands of ISIS terrorists have found refuge in Muslim Bosnia, including mujaheddin who began fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and then joined al-Qaeda and most recently ISIS. It is not possible to know exactly how many small arms they have, for the mountain regions controlled by the mujaheddin are inaccessible to outsiders.

The armed forces of post-socialist countries still use Kalashnikovs today, though Hungary, for example, is in the process of switching to more modern Czech assault rifles and machine pistols. Previously, some of the redundant Hungarian AK-47s went to Iraq and Syria under controlled conditions as military aid. Others were neutralized to be sold to collectors. In Slovakia, a few years ago, tens of thousands of deactivated assault rifles formerly belonging to the military, including large numbers of Kalashnikovs, were illegally converted back into live weapons, and most of these weapons fell into the hands of criminals.

In light of the above, Kujtim Fejzulai was able to obtain his AK-47 from ISIS as well as obtain it from organized criminal circles in Western Europe, including potentially from Albanian organized crime groups. Slovak authorities deny that the murder weapon is of Slovak origin. However, as early as July, the Austrian authorities were informed that Fejzuali and a partner were trying to buy a carbine but had not been sold to them in the absence of a weapons license. If the terrorist weapon originated from ISIS, it could have been smuggled into Vienna through the Balkan route — the route used by drug smugglers — and still used by people smugglers and human traffickers today.

Title image: The Vienna killer posed on Instagram with an AK-47 prior to his attack.

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