Perils of illegal arms trafficking

The report states the depleting national security of many countries in Europe and the Middle East due to corrupt arms dealers and smuggling of firearms. Beginning with the menace of the firearms trafficking and the fatalities caused by arms and weapons. We dwell on the major causes of arms smuggling, and lastly, the recent cases of illegal arms dealers who hold some reputation in the society/international arms trade market, yet have involved themselves in war-crimes and illegal activities. The focus is to highlight the damages done by illegal arms dealers like Tony Abi Saab and others. As per the recent data of the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), the number of violence in new locations and the number of armed rebel groups engaged in violence has risen since 2017. The major conflict hotspots are Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria where the rates of organized violence and the death tolls are highest.

The world has not many peaceful places to live, with constant violence, killings, conflict and wars, normal livelihood has taken a backseat. These nuisances are made possible by the side actors—Illegal arms dealers—who are causing more damage to the peace than terrorists themselves as they are supporting both sides in the conflict.

Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Menace of arms trafficking

3. Hotspots of illegal smuggling of weapons

4. Illegal dealers and punishments

5. Measures taken to reduce illegal arms trafficking

6. Conclusion

7. References and readings



Illicit arms trafficking fuels civil wars, contribute to sky-rocketing crime rates and feeds the arsenals of the world's worst terrorists. The smuggling of small arms and light weapons is increasing rapidly, which is a matter of concern globally. Small Arms Survey in 2005 reveals that the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons is estimated 60-90% of over 100,000 conflicts deaths each year (Small Arms Survey 2005) and tens of thousands of additional deaths outside of war zones. Small and light weapons are preferred by many terrorists for the following reasons:

1. Stemming the flow of these weapons is incredibly difficult;

2. Unlike weapons of mass destruction, small arms and many light weapons have legitimate military, law enforcement, and sporting and recreational uses;

3. And their uses preclude the types of outright bans on manufacture, stockpiling and the sales.

Of the roughly 175 terrorist attacks identified in last year's State Department report on Patterns of Global Terrorism, approximately half were committed with small arms or light weapons. The only way out to control the diversion and misuse of small and light weapons is to infringe upon legitimate use and trade. This is no small feat. Plentiful, easy to conceal, and lethal, SA/LW are a smuggler's dream and a law enforcement nightmare. Hundreds of thousands of small arms in leaky government arsenals are vulnerable to theft, loss, and diversion. Once acquired by traffickers, these weapons are smuggled across national borders in every conceivable way. They are hidden under sacks of vegetables in the back of a pick up trucks, packed into household appliances that are then loaded onto cargo ships, even air-dropped out of old Soviet military transport planes. In the hands of terrorists and other criminals, these weapons have the capacity to kill dozens, even hundreds, of innocent civilians. For these reasons, small arms trafficking is not a problem you solve; it is a problem you manage. By enacting strong export and border controls, safeguarding (or destroying) stockpiles, dismantling trafficking networks, and addressing the root causes of the civil conflicts and soaring urban crime rates, governments can reduce the supply of, and demand for, these weapons.

Menace of arms trafficking


More than 85% of the major conflicts since the second world war have been in poor countries. Fifty seven major armed conflicts occurred in 45 different locations between 1990 and 2001, involving 16 of the world's 20 poorest countries. Many of these conflicts have been longstanding. In 2000, for example, war had lasted for 22 years in Afghanistan, 35 years in Angola, and 12 years in Somalia.

Most conflicts since 1990 have occurred in countries where government armies were poorly organised; paramilitary factions acted as the driving force, using ideological or political agendas to justify their actions.

Once a country contains a critical number of weapons, the need for protection leads to their proliferation. The actions of paramilitary organisations, such as the indoctrination of children to kill family members, and of racketeers who use violence and intimidation to pillage local resources, and contribute to destabilisation of societies. The majority of violence happens in poor countries because arms dealers and brokers often supplying both sides of a conflict.

Nearly 80 million people own guns in the EU

There are currently at least 25 million gun owners in the EU, mainly men. Together, they own approximately 79.8 million guns. This means an average gun ownership rate of 15.7 guns per 100 people in the EU. Arms possession varies between Member States. Most firearms can be found in the larger countries (France, Germany), but other countries (e.g. Finland, Cyprus or Sweden) have higher gun ownership rates per capita. There is no clear trend in firearm possession in the EU: in some countries it has decreased in recent years, while in others it has increased. With respect to these data it should be noted that these are estimates, and that a more systematic recording of firearm ownership in the EU is needed. A particular challenge is that of mapping illegal firearm possession. Hunting is the most common reason why Europeans have a firearm, followed by professional reasons (e.g. police) and sports shooting. To a lesser extent, reasons for firearm possession are personal protection or collecting. Europeans mainly own rifles (e.g. hunting rifles) and to a lesser extent handguns, such as pistols and revolvers. 

Over 6,000 deaths by firearms in the EU each year

In the EU approximately 6,700 people die as a result of shot wounds each year. This number is composed of 5,000 suicides (75%), 1,000 homicides (15%) and 700 unspecified deaths or accidents. The available figures show a decreasing trend, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. The 5,000 suicides by firearms per year represent 9% of all suicides in the EU. Especially older men commit suicide using a firearm. Earlier studies indicate that these suicides are usually committed with legal firearms. On average, in the EU 1,000 homicides are committed with firearms each year, but this number varies considerably from one Member State to another. Homicides with firearms represent 20% of all homicides in the EU, a percentage that is far below the worldwide average (40%). Little is known about the legal/illegal nature of arms used in homicides. Men are more often victims of firearm homicides than women. Male victims are often young, whereas female victims are usually older. This may be related to the context in which the homicides take place: female victims are often victims of domestic violence at the hands of their (ex-) partners, whereas men become victims in more diverse contexts, such as crime, street violence, etc.

Hotspots of illegal smuggling of weapons


The main sources of illegal weapons are the reactivation of neutralised weapons, burglaries and thefts, the embezzlement of legal arms, the selling of legal arms on the illegal market, including the Darknet, the reactivation of decommissioned army or police firearms, and the conversion of gas pistols.

The role of Dark web

The dark web is an enabler for the circulation of illegal weapons already on the black market, as well as a potential source of diversion for legally owned weapons. Although the arms trade is small in volume compared to other products trafficked online, its potential impact on international security is significant.

The proliferation and illicit international movement of firearms and explosives worldwide involves a complex mix of interrelated issues. Despite efforts to regulate firearms, there are multiple avenues for entrepreneurial criminals to bypass controls and traffic weapons across international borders. This issue has emerged as particularly relevant for EU security, despite the stringent firearms control measures.

The role of the dark web has grown in prominence in recent years following its link to the 2016 Munich Shooting, where a lone-wolf terrorist used a weapon purchased on the dark web. These terror attacks cemented widespread public concern that the dark web is an enabler and facilitator for terrorists and organized criminals seeking firearms. However, despite these concerns, very little is known about the size and scope of the weapons trade on the dark web.

The rapid sale of firearms on dark web

The illicit trade of firearms, explosives and ammunition on the dark web, aimed to explore the worldwide illegal arms trade, with a focus on the role played by the dark web in fuelling and/or facilitating such trade. The dark web is increasing the availability of better performing, more recent firearms for the same, or lower, price, than what would be available on the street on the black market.

• The US appears to be the most common source country for arms that are for sale on the dark web. Almost 60% of the firearms listings are associated with products that originate from the US. This is followed by a selection of European countries, which account for roughly 25%, while unspecified locations of origin account for roughly 12%. However, Europe represents the largest market for arms trade on the dark web, generating revenues that are around five times higher than the US.

• Firearms listings (42%) were the most common listings on the dark web, followed by arms-related digital products (27%) and others, including ammunition (22%). Pistols were the most commonly listed firearm (84%), followed by rifles (10%) and sub-machine guns (6%).

• The overall value of the arms trade on the dark web based on the 12 crypto markets analyzed in the study is estimated to be in the region of $80,000 per month, with firearms generating nearly 90% of all revenue. Due to the arms trade on the dark web, every month there could be up to 136 untraced firearms or associated products in the real world.

• The dark web is unlikely to be the method of choice to fuel conflicts because arms are not traded at a large enough scale and due to the potential limitations on infrastructure and services in a conflict zone.

• On the other hand, the dark web has the potential to become the platform of choice for individuals (e.g. lone-wolves terrorists) or small groups (e.g. gangs) to obtain weapons and ammunition behind the anonymity curtain provided by the dark web. In addition, the dark web could be used by vulnerable and fixated individuals to purchase firearms.

Illegal Arms dealers


There are some cases to reveal some of the sources, routes, and methods that gun runners use to acquire and deliver small arms and light weapons. They are the Abi Saab’s conspiracy: In 2011, the US government nabbed the Lebanon fraudster, Tony Abi Saab for defrauding the army of 5 million dollars, bribing the US Corps. of Engineer, and shipping contraband weapons to illegal destinations.

Tony Abi Saab is the son of Joseph Abi Saab who founded Brescia Middle East (BME), a guns and weaponry company. The international-famed BME was indicted for running several shell companies in war-torn countries and selling weapons to rebel groups.

Family background

The head of the Abi Saab family, Joseph has two sons, Tony/Antoine, and Hady who are the owners of Brescia Middle East and Tactica Ltd Afghanistan. Tony is a more active member of the Abi Saab family than is Hady. He takes all the crucial decisions of the company, meet potential clients (including terrorists), and travels abroad for business meetings. Raymond is a close family relative and a business partner of Tony Abi Saab. They together swindled multi-million dollars of the US Army in contracts through their company Sima Salazar in Afghanistan. The wife of Raymond Azar, Jacqueline Azar is the real sister of Tony Abi Saab’s mother. She is also the listed owner of Sima International.

His crime

Tony Abi Saab is wanted to the US Army for his war-crime in Syria and Afghanistan. The intelligence team of the US found out his links with deadly terrorist groups through a global sting operation. Tony was selling weapons to terror groups through his shell companies, for the profit and to fuel conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan. He was importing weapons to Lebanon from his principle suppliers—Beretta and Tanfoglio, both are Italian firms. His company, Tactica Ltd was purchasing arms commercially and selling them in the black market to terrorist groups in Syria. His shell company, Brixia produced spare parts for weapons and smuggled them to countries throughout the Middle East for reassembly and sales. Apart from the fraud he did in weapons, he fooled the US Army in construction contracts by bidding through his shell companies such as SIMAINT, Brixia, Tactica Ltd, etc.

When he was brought for a trial in the US court, Tony made sure that none of the evidence collected from Syria and Afghanistan to be submitted in the court. Moreover, no news channels in Lebanon and nearby countries broadcasted his news out of fear. Few journalists who tried to cover Tony’s news and publish critical articles against him were killed. For example, a news report by, which claimed that Tony has supplied pistols and machine guns to Daesh through Turkey was deleted within a week.

Brescia Middle East: Tony’s only front company

Brescia Middle East is an arms and weapons dealing company located in Lebanon. It was indicted for bribery, money laundering, and shipment of contraband weapons to illegal destinations. BME, prior to the revelation of its crime, was taking military contracts. The company was earning from both sides of a conflict. To obfuscate the complicity in the fraudulent activities, Tony Abi Saab along with his friend-cum-business partner, Raymond Azar set-up a number of ghost companies—K5 Global, Bennet-Fouch. Sima Salazar and Tactica Ltd were operated under K5 Global and Bennet Fouch. All the shell companies were guided and controlled by Tony’s main company, Brescia Middle East. BME laundered the crime money obtained by the shell companies and transferred the amount to the bank accounts of its business partners. Tony was helped by one of the employees or a friend of his, working in Blom Bank, in managing the accounts and suspicious transactions.

BME sold Tanfoglio pistols to the LG knowing that some components may have been manufactured in Israel thereby, violating Lebanese laws. Tony has a good contact in Italy, he has lived there for several years, thus establishing a working relationship with an Israel liaison officer to further his relationship with Tanfoglio. The liaison was paid to overlook the export of parts produced by Bul Ltd (Tel Aviv) –for assembly in Tanfoglio pistols in Italy, for re-export to Israel, and for use in their security/intelligence agencies.

Business partners

Tony Abi Saab has built a network with several big arms dealing companies around the world. He is helped by his business partners in his illegal activities. With their support, he manages to trespass arms and weapons across the borders of vulnerable countries.

Here is the list of Tony's business partners and associates:


• Italy-- ARMERIA AMELIO GAMBA Srl, INTESA SANPAOLO S.P.A., Benelli Armi, franchi division, Fiocchi munizione, Armeria brignoli silvio & c snc, BLS, Gardone val trompia, Brixia Shotguns SRL, Armeria Amelio Gamba SRL, Beretta, Tanfoglio, and Via matteotti 303

• Germany - Umarex gmbh & co KG

• France - Noble france sa

• Turkey - Osmanli Arms, ISTANBUL and KONYA, KOMANDO AV SAN TIC LTD, ATA Av tufekleri

• Bangladesh - Emran arms

• Georgia - Kula Ltd., Tiblisi

• Russia - LOBASTOV IVAN, Baikal Ltd, Izhevsk city

• Bulgaria - Arsenal

• Czech Republic - MSN and CSG Group

• Ukraine - Berkut Ltd

• Brasil — Condor

• Italy - Flocchi munizione

• Bulgaria - Arsenal


The US Court trial

In a global sting operation orchestrated by the intelligence teams of the US—FBI, CIA and the Army, Tony was caught red-handed from Afghanistan with valuable documents and cash. He was trying to bribe a US Corps of Engineer who was wearing a wire for the FBI. He was flown to the US court to address his crimes. He was indicted for defrauding the US Army of 5 million dollars, running several ghost companies, and supplying arms and ammunition to rebel groups to earn profits. It is unfortunate that he escaped from the jail term by pleading human rights violations in the civil court of the USA. Since then, the investigation team is on the heels to catch the duper, but now Tony is more careful in doing his illegal businesses.

Azar multi-million fraud in Afghanistan:

Raymond Azar, the owner of Sima Salazar Group plotted multi-million dollar contract fraud against the US Army in Afghanistan. He along with his partner-in-crime supplied essential information and weapons to ISIS in Syria. They were hiding true identity from the US military and contractors of other countries--simply to execute their fraud businesses successfully in countries at wars.

Raymond Azar’s wife is the real sister of Joseph’s wife (Tony’s father). So, there is no doubt that Raymond Azar and Tony Abi Saab are more than business partners. Most of the illegal companies of Tony in Afghanistan like Tactica Ltd Afghanistan, K5 Global and Bennet-Fouch, were handled by Raymond, along with his own company, Sima Salazar International, before he was convicted and sent to prison.

Tony has a quirky business mind, he established several shell companies in countries where tension was either rising or already existed, for the sole purpose of duping military money.

Raymond Azar supported Tony’s illegal ambitions throughout and put his best efforts to procure the best of military contracts to defraud them later. Taking benefit of Army tag, Raymond obtained over $50 million reconstruction contracts in just a few years for his company Sima Salazar group, with no intention to complete any of the projects.

Raymond was also helped by the co-owner of the company Dinorah Cobos who never revealed her real identity and was “Sarah Lee” for the clients and on official documents.

In 2005, the US intelligence team detained Raymond Azar, who was one of the five abdicated highly placed Lebanese officials, in connection to the assassination of the former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, of Lebanon. Azar had got a warning from the officials to stop poking nose into political matters of Syria. The former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, had been working behind the scenes to end the Syrian domination of Lebanon's affairs. Since then, Raymond was on the radar of the FBI, but they weren’t aware that Raymond is being directed by Tony Abi Saab, another big name of Lebanon.

Raymond was arrested in 2009 and got the imprisonment of 5 years along with $15 million as a penalty.

The Otterloo incident - In 2001, an Israeli arms dealer operating out of Panama duped the Nicaraguan government into selling him 3000 AK-47s and 2.5 million rounds of ammunition. The broker said that he was procuring the weapons on behalf of the Panamanian National Police, a claim ostensibly substantiated by a Panamanian end-user certificate. It was a lie. The end-user certificate was a forgery and the Panamanians had no knowledge of the deal. On November 2nd, the weapons were loaded into a Panamanian-registered ship named the Otterloo, which departed from the Nicaraguan port of El Bluff the next day. Two days later, it arrived in Colombia where the actual recipients - members of Colombia's vicious paramilitary groups - were waiting to claim their prize.

Victor "The Devil" Infante: On July 30th, 2003 U.S. law enforcement officials observed an associate of Victor "The Devil" Infante sending a Federal Express package from Los Angeles to the Philippines. Infante was under investigation at the time for operating a multinational firearms and methamphetamine distribution ring. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officials interdicted the Fed Ex package and the accompanying airway bill, which falsely identified the contents as a $30 camera tripod. Inside the package, agents found parts for M-16 and AR-15 assualt rifles.

Victor Bout, Pecos and Liberia:Unhappy with a consignment of assault rifles they had ordered from a Slovak manufacturer, the Ugandan government requested that the Egyptian who had brokered the original deal return the rifles to the manufacturer. The broker agreed and dispatched an Ilyushin-18 transport plane to pick up the rifles. Unbeknonwst to the Uganda government, the broker had found a new buyer, a Guinean arms brokering company (Pecos) founded by a Slovak broker after criminal investigations in Europe forced him to shift his operations elsewhere. Seven tons of the rifles were loaded onto the plane and flown to Monrovia - a clear violation of a UN arms embargo on Liberian President Charles Taylor's thuggish regime. Three days later, the plane returned to Uganda to pick up the rest of the firearms. By this time, the Ugandan government had caught wind of the diversion and had impounded the guns. Subsequent investigations uncovered a vast arms trafficking network comprised of front companies operated by the infamous Victor Bout and his associates.



The report is an attempt to highlight the cruel intentions of illegal arms dealers and the risk surrounding the trafficking of arms. The world is no more a safe place and the credit goes to illegal arms dealers who for the sake of money are doing unethical trades in war-torn countries. There is a dire need to blacklist all the mentioned companies and revoke their licenses. Unless strict action is taken against the illegal arms dealers and brokers, no military forces can ever stop the ongoing violence and conflicts around the world. According to a report submitted by the Armed Conflict Location and Events Data Project, political violence has increased up to 11% worldwide since the last year. Countries like Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan are the hotspots of the highest number of conflict events and nearly 70% of the organized violence events in 2018. Despite the extreme effort put by the military to abolish terrorism in Afghanistan, the country has yet again topped the list of the deadliest country in 2018. Syria and Yemen remain flashpoints. Syria is called as the deadliest place for civilians in 2018 after nearly 40 % of the total violence events recorded from there, while Yemen witnessed over 28,100 civilian fatalities.

References & sources


* Illegal Arms Trade

* Dark web for Illegal Arms Trade

* Illicit firearms trafficking

* The Illicit Arms Trade

* protecting citizens and disrupting illegal trafficking

* Illicit trafficking

* Beyond the dark web

* Misuse of Firearms as a Threat to Global Security

* the Sale of arms in Libya

* Illegal Arms Trade on the Dark Web

* Press Release

* Russian News Center about illegal arms trade

* Lebabon New Agency

* Russia News Report about weapons trade

* Transparency report of Africa

* Small Arms, Terrorism and the OAS Firearms Convention (pages 24-25 & 28-29)

* "Victor "The Devil" Infante Charged with Weapons Exportation and Methamphetamine Distribution--Arrested in the Philippines" (ICE news release)

* Report of the Panel of Experts pursuant to Security Council resolution 1343 (2001), paragraph 19, concerning Liberia, United Nations Security Council, S/2001/1015, 26 October 2001