Qatari missile found with Italian neo-Nazi slipped through the net

Global arms control rules unable to stop the smuggling of powerful weapons

Italian Police handout shows a large arsenal of weapons, including an air-to-air missile, that they say they seized in raids on neo-Nazi sympathisers, in Turin, Italy July 15, 2019. Polizia di Stato/Handout via REUTERS   ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
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A missile bearing the stamp of the State of Qatar has ended up with Italian neo-Nazis, leaving a trail of speculation among experts about how such a powerful weapon could fall into the hands of a fringe group.

The intended use of the missile, and the machineguns and rocket launchers also found in the police raid in Turin, remains unclear although there are questions about potential links to far-right groups fighting in the Ukraine conflict.

“It does look confusing. I think it probably ended up on the black market where the group managed to get hold of it. It might have been that Qatar got rid of them when doing an upgrade and that's how they ended on the market,” says Hassan Elbahtimy of King's College London.

The arms control expert said it was extremely unlikely Qatar would have directly sold the missile to the Italian in whose was home the weapons were found.

“You would expect that are measures to dispose of these systems but then nothing is really foolproof. The black market in weapons thrived on the back of conflict in Syria and Ukraine, so demand is high,” Dr Elbahtimy said.

Another expert speculated that the Qatari weapons could somehow have ended up in conflict zones in the former Yugoslavia or in Libya and then subsequently trafficked to Italy. Almost as worrying is that there was no proof of its movements over the decades.

The Mantra Super 530 F was a modernisation of the R530 missile that went into service in 1980 and was used by the Qatari military.

Italian media say Fabio Del Bergiolo, a former candidate for the neo-fascist Forza Nuova party, whose house was filled with neo-Nazi memorabilia, wanted to sell the French-made weapon for over $500 million (DH1.83 billion).

Kabir Taneja, an associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, said the finding of the air-to-air missile, also known as an AAM, was “very odd” and “nothing short of shocking.”

“The far-right managing to obtain an AAM (without having an aircraft to launch it from) is bizarre, and the only use they could have for it is to sell it. I am not sure who would buy it though, as it is fairly useless without a sophisticated launcher,” Mr Taneja said.

“There is scarce information available... and the fact that it's coming from Qatar, which is a heavily fortified state, raises more questions than answers at the moment,” he added.

The issue is the lack of a legally binding multilateral instrument to restrict arms, as evidenced by the Missile Technology Control Regime. It seeks to limit the proliferation of missiles but only has 35 member states, including Italy and France but not Qatar, and has the status of an informal, non-treaty association.

Similarly, although the 2002 Hague Code of Conduct is signed by more countries, it can only call for restraint.

“The fact that they have this missile only emphasises the fact that there is very little control over what happens to weapons after export,” said Andrew Smith, of the Campaign Against Arms Trade.

“The lifespan of weapons can be decades and they can change hands many times over.”