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Italy Seizes Thousands of Assault Rifles Bound for US - 2004-04-20

Italian authorities have seized more than 7,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and other weapons on a ship that was headed for the United States. The ship had pulled into the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro.

Italian customs officials said thousands of arms were seized after being found in three containers on a Turkish-flagged ship, which docked in the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro. The ship had left from the Romanian port of Constanta.

Officials said the arms were found during routine checks carried out in the port. Such checks have been intensified recently due to fears of possible terror attacks. Officials said the cargo of weapons was worth over seven million dollars.

Italian authorities said documents accompanying the cargo indicated that the weapons were to be transferred to another ship, bearing a British flag, to continue their journey to New York.

From there, the arms were to have been taken via land to a large U.S. company, based in the state of Georgia. The name of the company was not revealed, so as not to jeopardize further investigations.

Officials said the cargo was confiscated because of discrepancies in the customs forms. They said the weapons were described as conventional firearms, instead of Kalashnikov assault rifles and machine guns.

The officials revealed that some conventional weapons had been placed on top to hide the Kalashnikovs. The weapons cargo was discovered 10 days ago, but the announcement was only made Tuesday to ensure investigations could be carried out without publicity.

Italian investigators suspect the weapons were destined for an international organization of arms traffickers. It was the second seizure of Kalashnikov assault rifles in the port of Gioia Tauro. A batch of 6,000 was confiscated there two years ago.

Investigations continue to shed light on those responsible for the shipment of assault rifles to the United States. A ban on importing assault weapons into the United States has been in place since 1994, and expires in September. Efforts to renew it are stalled in Congress.