The European killer

Weapons from the EU are used in Yemen and Libya, they are found in Morocco-occupied Western Sahara and even in the hands of criminal cartels and terrorists. Often not because they were lost somewhere. Weapons from Europe are openly delivered to crisis areas and to dictatorships. They are used to suppress the population and wage questionable Wars. European governments often close more than both eyes.

This is the result of a research carried out by the Dutch Non-Profit “Lighthouse Reports” and Bellingcat. To this end, they have used publicly available sources to understand where European weapons appear everywhere and how they got there.

Extensive Research from freely available sources

In their research, they relied on images and Videos that are publicly available, Postings on social networks, television reports on military parades, recordings showing military equipment, and official documents on arms deliveries. The Search was limited to the countries of origin Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.

The researchers have documented the extensive results of their search in detail and visualized them in great detail. The visual entry point of the online presentation is an interactive map (our cover image), on which colored dots hiss back and forth. Many move between the countries studied, the major arms purchasers, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, and areas of crisis, such as Yemen and Libya.

The EU export code

The paths of individual deliveries as well as the search path are traceable in detail. The focus of the investigative networks has also been summarized in text form or as Video. From the “EU Arms Project” went several sub-projects such as #SpanishArms, #FrenchArms or #GermanArms recorded media such as ARTE, or the ARD.

Where the EU exports weapons is regulated by law. As early as 2008, the European Union summarized in eight points of view the circumstances under which member states may authorise arms exports. This code states, for example, that the EU must comply with its international obligations when it comes to arms sales. It is legally binding for the EU countries, although the respective legislation is a national matter.

Criterion 2 defines the respect of human rights and international humanitarian law by the country of Final Destination. This means that weapons and military technology from the EU must not be used to suppress the population in internal conflicts. The code states that special care must be taken when exporting arms to countries that have repeatedly violated human rights. According to the “EU Arms"research, several of the countries examined have clearly violated these principles. Three Examples:

German weapons in Yemen

Weapons from virtually all European countries delivered to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have contributed, in Yemen, one of the largest humanitarian catastrophes. An estimated one third of all airstrikes have so far hit civilian targets, and the country’s infrastructure has been partially destroyed in a targeted manner. The war has directly cost tens of thousands of lives. The Yemeni population is suffering from Hunger, disease and the embargo imposed by the warring parties.

Until February 2019, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier had “no knowledge” of the use of German weapons in the Yemeni war. At least that’s what he said in an Interview with ARD.

It took only two weeks to gain relevant insights. The researchers did not need secret reports, the source was the Internet. In a Workshop with journalists and laymen, they proved not only that military technology manufactured in Germany was used in Yemen, but also where and when. The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was silent on the ARD questions.

Italian attack helicopters in Turkmenistan

The Republic of Turkmenistan, located between Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, is only republic by name. The de facto dictatorship has one of the most repressive governments in the world and ranks last in all Democratic Rankings, be it in terms of human rights, freedom of the press, access to information or corruption. Nevertheless, according to EU data, Turkmenistan bought weapons in Europe for 340 million euros between 2007 and 2017. Three quarters of them come from Italy.

Perhaps not even all military goods are included in this list. “Bellingcat” has tried to trace the path of individual armaments. For example, the delivery of several AW-139 helicopters, which are used in the air force of Turkmenistan. They were manufactured by the Italian manufacturer AgustaWestland (today part of the Leonardo group). The helicopters were approved and sold by Italy in 2011, as evidenced by documents from the manufacturer and the Italian government.

“Dual Use”: what you don’t want to know

The searchers did not find an export permit for AW-109 helicopters, which are also manufactured by AgustaWestland. AW-109 can be used by the Turkmen air force since at least 2016, according to unconfirmed observations, even since 2012. Only the order could understand “Bellincat”, the serial numbers of the helicopters are even known. This could be due to an exception: “Dual Use"goods, which are used for civil purposes and are not intended for military purposes, do not have to be approved by the exporting country.


The AW-109 actually has a model for civilian use. However, images from Turkmenistan confirm that the AW-109 helicopters are equipped with weapons from the Belgian armament company Forges de Zeebrugge and have thus participated in military exercises. Forges de Zeebrugge belongs to the French Thales Group and holds a license from AgustaWestland to manufacture rocket launchers and missiles for the helicopter series in question. In addition to helicopters, the researchers in Turkmenistan found, for example, Beretta pistols as well as naval guns and aircraft made in Italy.

In part, the search was only successful because every EU country is obliged to make data on arms exports publicly available. However, the quality of the documents in Italy is far from sufficient, complain “Bellingcat” and “Lighthouse Reports”: there is not only a general lack of transparency. Records would be prepared by the Italian government in such a way that they could hardly or not at all be combined into a meaningful whole.

Airbus, Iberia and a well maintained plane

Those who only think of guns, planes or tanks when they export weapons only grasp part of reality. Heavy equipment or a specific type of rifle can be easily found and assigned, but military goods also include services such as training in weapon systems, maintenance, training of maintenance personnel and the ongoing support of the owners.

The network has traced the route of an Airbus A330 that was ordered by Saudi Arabia in 2008 or 2009 as a civil aircraft from the French company Airbus. According to documents from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), six A330 aircraft were delivered between 2011 and 2015.

Airbus A330 MRTT

At least one A330 is used as a Tank and tow aircraft for fighter jets and is used in the Yemeni war. The conversion to a military aircraft was carried out by the Spanish company Iberia. To this day, it is carrying out maintenance work on the converted aircraft, which was located in Yemeni airspace. According to international agreements and Spanish laws, this should not be the case.

The converted Airbus is regularly on its way to Spain and back. An employee from La Muñoz, Iberia’s headquarters near Madrid, confirmed that he had carried out maintenance work on the Airbus. In 2016, one year after the start of the war in Yemen, spare parts were delivered from Spain to Saudi Arabia for 100 million euros, according to the Spanish Ministry of economy. Both Airbus and Iberia have confirmed that they have carried out inspections and maintenance in Spain and Saudi Arabia. They did not want to specify the type of work. “Lighthouse Reports” summarized the research in the Video: