An Atlantic Council report has identified markers on weapons seized in Bahrain that can be traced back along supply lines to Iran.
The Washington think tank with close links to Nato said research pointed to Bahrain as a key node in an Iranian weapons-smuggling network that stretched to the Horn of Africa and across the Sahara.
Based on analysis of the seized weapons in Bahrain and the finding of a UN expert panel, the report said there were several common characteristics on display that pointed to Iran.
These included the deliberate obliteration of unique identifiable markings, such as serial numbers or factory markings, to obscure sequence of weapons or place of manufacture.
Weapons also yielded signs of co-mingling with other materiel, such as the plastic explosive C4.
Much of it also resembled the weaponry seized on a dhow, the Jihan 1, that sailed from Iran in 2013.
“Nearly half of the assault rifles recovered in Bahrain, including a majority of Chinese-manufactured Type 56-1 rifles, featured obliterated serial numbers and factory markings, a characteristic of covertly supplied materiel,” the report said.
This made Bahrain one of a number of countries where similar materiel was found and seized.
“Type 56-1 rifles documented in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen featured serial numbers that are interspersed within the serial-number sequences of Type 56-1 rifles recovered in Bahrain, indicating that most of these rifles likely originated from the same stockpile,” the report said.
It said the plastic explosive in Bahrain was made in Iran.
"C-4 explosive in original packaging recovered in Bahrain is visually identical to Iranian-manufactured M112 C-4 and featured markings that correspond with C-4 recovered from the Jihan 1 interdiction," it said.
The source of the weapons was in any case limited to fewer than a handful of countries.
“The large majority of small-calibre ammunition recovered in Bahrain is manufactured by only three countries, with Iranian-manufactured ammunition representing the majority,” the report said.
“The most interesting correlation is with Type 56-1 rifles smuggled out of Yemen and documented in the Puntland region of Somalia.
“While these specific rifles were documented in Puntland, it is important to note that there is a robust trade in abundant and cheap rifles flowing from Yemen into Somalia for sale on the black market.
“Furthermore, there are multiple recorded instances of Iranian weapon transfers to the Congo, Iraq and to the Houthis in Yemen, including several recent maritime interdictions in the Arabian Sea that recovered thousands of Type 56-1 assault rifles.”