Following the ISIS assault on Paris that left 130 dead prompting Francois Hollande to declare that France is “at war,” authorities quickly established a link to the infamous Brussels suburb of Molenbeek.
The working class, immigrant neighborhood - which is separated from the historical district by a canal and is but a 20 minute subway ride from Brussels' European Quarter - has become synonymous with radicalization and terror. As we put it last week, “what Charlestown is to bank robbers, Molenbeek is to European jihadists.”
"The assassination of the Afghan anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, immediately before the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001; the train bombings in Madrid in 2004; and the killing of four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum in 2014; the foiled shooting on a high-speed train, the anti-terrorist raid in the eastern Belgian town of Verviers, the attack on a Paris kosher supermarket and, finally, the Nov. 13 attacks on the French capital — all had some connection to Molenbeek,” The New York Times wrote earlier this month.
But it’s not just Molenbeek. In January, two operatives working under the direction of Paris mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud were killed when Belgian police raided a safehouse in Verviers.
In short, Belgium has apparently become a kind of hub for jihadists. Not wanting to let a good crisis go to waste, the entire country - and especially Brussels - has been on high alert for nearly a week now as authorities hunt for several suspects who are purportedly planning a “serious and imminent” terrorist attack.
In what may be the latest evidence that there are indeed multiple active terror cells operating in the country (or in what may merely be evidence that some anonymous Belgian collector just really loves Winchesters), Italian police seized some 800 shotguns bound for Belgium today at the Port of Trieste.
Here's the story from La Stampa (translated):
A load of about 800 shotguns, from Turkey to Germany, Holland and Belgium, has been discovered and seized by the Financial Police and the Customs at the Port of Trieste. The weapons of war were transported, without authorization, by a tractor-trailer driven by a Dutch citizen turkish. The cargo consisted of 781 shotguns model "Winchester SXP" from 12-51 cm, 66 shotguns "Winchester SXP" from 12-41 cm. 15 rifle and kicking.
Tir had landed in Trieste on 23 November. The weapons were contained in hundreds of cardboard boxes, each of which containing a shotgun, all directed in Belgium. Given the peculiarities of the load, its origin and destination, the Financial Police and customs officials have declined to elaborate documentation. Although there were no irregularities of customs, it had not been requested permission to the authorities of public security for the transportation.
And here's a look at the merchandise:
Finally, a bit more from The Daily Star:
The finance police, who are often in charge of port security, said that while customs rules had not been violated, the Turkish truck driver did not have the licences needed to transport the 781 Winchester SXP shotguns.
Pump-action Winchester SXP rifles are made for hunting and are not considered assault weapons, but police said they had "substantially" increased their border inspections in the wake of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks and subsequent alert in Belgium.
"Given the delicate nature of the cargo, its origin and its destination, the documentation regarding the rifles was immediately examined," the statement said.
What should immediately jump out at you here is that these were being sent from Turkey to Belgium. While anyone who's followed Syria's protracted civil war knows that Ankara has long been suspected of aiding and abetting Islamic State (just ask the PKK, or Newsweek, or even ISIS themselves), Erdogan's role in financing the group was thrown into sharp relief this week after Vladimir Putin accused Turkey of facilitating the sale of illegal Islamic State crude (from which the group derives some half a billion dollars per year in revenue).
We've documented the Turkey-ISIS connection on dozens of occasions this year, but notably we revisited the link on Tuesday courtesy of Nafeez Ahmed in "NATO Is Harboring ISIS, And Here's The Evidence" and then on Wednesday evening, we took our first peak down what is likely to be a very deep rabbit hole in "Meet The Man Who Funds ISIS: Bilal Erdogan, The Son Of Turkey's President."
Given all of this, one is certainly left to wonder just where in Turkey these 800 pump action shotguns came from and, more importantly, who sent them to Belgium. While we're sure there were likely a string of intermediaries involved, we wouldn't be surprised to learn that ultimately, there's a connection to Ankara and from there, to ISIS.
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Bonus: for those of you wondering what kind of damage you can do with a Winchester SXP, here's an official video from the company's website called "Everybody's Shootin'" - just imagine the ducks are people.