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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. Funerals today in France for 4 of the people killed in last week’s attack on Charlie Hebdo. Even as France continues to grieve, we’re hearing new details about where the attackers got their military-grade assault weapons. These were the kind of weapons that are very difficult to obtain legally anywhere in the European Union, yet it seems one of the killers, Amedy Coulibaly, was able to find the guns the group wanted in Belgium. Few details have been released officially but the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner filled me in on what he’s been finding out.
Frank Gardner: Well, the really disturbing thing is how easily, and how relatively cheaply--for less than $10,000 for the entire arsenal--this attack was enabled.
Werman: How was all of this possible in Europe with all of these stringent firearms laws they have there?
Gardner: Well, it’s precisely, some would argue, because of the stringent firearms laws that people go straight to the underworld, they go to the criminal illegal arms market. There is a great mass of the washing around, sadly. Yesterday, I interviewed Gilles de Kerchove, who is the European Union’s coordinator on counter-terrorism and he said it’s relatively easy, if you know where to go, to get hold of military weapons in Europe.
Werman: So, if reports are accurate, Belgium was the marketplace for this deal. Is Belgium known for this kind of thing and what do you know about the Belgian arms dealer that has apparently either come forward or has been arrested?
Gardner: Well, there are two, according to the Belgian media reports, one of who is believed to have supplied the weapons to Coulibaly, another of whom is believed to have handed himself in. It’s not clear if they are one in the same person. Clearly, somebody who has seen Coulibaly’s name does not want to get done for terrorism when he is involved with criminality but not terrorism, because there’s going to be a huge difference in the penalties. So, if it’s true, then he has chosen the lesser crime, as it were. But there is a very thriving black market underworld in Belgium and other places for black market weapons. The collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, which resulted in those wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and later, Kosovo, has meant that there is a huge surplus of locally-produced Balkan weapons, powerful weapons, things like the AKM with the folding paratrooper stock that take 30-round magazines, that are falling into the wrong hands, and that’s a real worry.
Werman: Do you have any idea of how long before the attacks these weapons were purchased and are there any indications of who taught the attackers how to use these weapons?
Gardner: The supply of the weapons is reportedly as recently of December, so within the last few weeks. In terms of military training, because these were relatively professionally carried out, these attacks--certainly the raid on the Charlie Hebdo offices, their firing maneuver was quite professional--it appears that at least one of them was trained in Yemen by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And, of course, we had the claim by AQAP, as they call themselves, that they were behind it. But one or two things don’t stack up here--this time gap, because Said Kouachi is believed to have visited Yemen in 2011 and left the following year. Why would he wait two and a half years to do the attack? It’s not that sophisticated an attack. It doesn’t take two and a half years to put it together. Did he become part of a sleeper cell and then sort of go quiet and was then activated? It’s possible. But then where is the suicide video, the martyrdom video that is normally issued in cases like this?
Werman: The BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner there.