Europol warning: Right-wingers equip themselves with 3D printed weapons

A radical right-winger has been arrested in Slovakia for using self-printed weapons and explosives. Investigators on the phenomenon met in The Hague three weeks ago.

Together with foreign police and intelligence services, officials in Slovakia have arrested a right-wing extremist who allegedly distributed instructions for 3D self-printing weapons and explosives. The man is described as dangerous and is currently in pre-trial detention awaiting further proceedings.

In addition to the Slovak police and criminal investigation department, the country’s military intelligence service was also involved in the investigation. Because the crimes involved cross-border organized crime, the Czech police cooperated as well.

Raids subsequently took place in Slovakia on May 11 and in the Czech Republic on May 23. In the process, law enforcement officials said they discovered a „sophisticated 3D printer“ and electronic devices that are currently under investigation.

„Cold Weapons“

3D-printed weapons are referred to by police as „improvised cold weapons“ or „ghost weapons.“ They are often assembled in combination with homemade metal parts and printable parts, rather than complete. Some of these components can be purchased in countries where their sale is permitted.

In addition to instructions for such manufactured automatic firearms, the arrested man is also said to have published templates for the manufacture of explosives and mines, according to the Hague-based EU police agency Europol.

The suspect is said to be connected with other groups and individuals spreading neo-Nazi and far-right propaganda. He is also said to belong to the supremist movement that views white people as superior. Europol names the so-called Siege movement for this purpose. This is an online fascist community that is simultaneously active „offline.“

Support by FBI

The latest investigation in Slovakia was supported by the US FBI as well as Europol. The police agency has launched a joint Task Force and sent two experts to Slovakia. They have access to EU databases and can cross-check emerging information with them.

Eurojust, the EU agency for judicial cooperation in criminal matters, set up a Joint Investigation Team with Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Its purpose is to facilitate the collection of evidence and ensure subsequent prosecution.

The suspect is „known in the international far-right cyberspace, Europol explained.“ In addition to the construction instructions, he is said to have disseminated „extremist hate speech and terrorist activities.“ These had included suggestions for sabotage attacks.

Coordination from The Hague

The Slovak military intelligence discovered the suspect „through his specialized activities“ and subsequently prompted a law enforcement investigation. The EU police agency describes the secret service as a „partner agency.“

Various Europol units also would have analyzed „operational intelligence,“ provided „operational analysis,“ and facilitated information sharing. For classified and cross-border exchanges, the agency operates the encrypted SIENA network.

„Operational activities“ were also coordinated from The Hague, Europol writes. The agency also provided technical assistance in analyzing the seized electronic devices, it said.

Warning in 2015

The development of 3D printing technology for the manufacture of firearms is considered one of the major challenges for law enforcement. Europol already pointed out corresponding risks in a report in 2015. However, this assessment contradicts itself in some places.

Despite the huge media interest after the presentation of the first 3D-printed gun in May 2013, Europol considered it is „unlikely to become a major source for the proliferation of firearms“. This, it said, was due to the technical complexity of manufacturing with a 3D printer and the relatively low prices of conventional firearms on the black market in the EU.

Still, the report warns against „innovation towards self-replicating 3D printers.“ This could offer new opportunities to organized crime groups. Europol therefore urged a heightened awareness of the current threat environment seven years ago. This, it said, included the use of 3D printing to manufacture explosives.

Conference at Europol

Three weeks ago, some 120 investigators, ballistics experts, forensic scientists, „policy makers“ and academics gathered at Europol for an international conference on the threat posed by 3D-printed weapons.

At Europol, self-printed weapons are addressed as part of the Weapons and Explosives Analysis Project. EU member states can participate in these analysis projects at their own discretion and share information there.

Under the leadership of the Dutch police, EU member states want to set up a network of specialists on self-printed firearms at Europol. Findings „from ballistic experts, forensic scientists, policy makers and academia“ are to be pooled there.

At least 116 people killed in 16 years

The arrest in Slovakia proves that 3D weapons are exacerbating the phenomenon of violent, far-right movements in the European Union. However, the French EU Presidency recently warned against this.

In 2019, the assassin in Halle/ Germany used a weapon partially homemade with a 3D printer. In 2021, the Spanish National Police shut down a 3D-printed weapons workshop in the Canary Islands, finding „white supremacist literature.“ In the same year, two men and a woman were arrested in the UK for right-wing terrorism and charged with possessing components for 3D-printed weapons.

Right-wing extremists have carried out more than 31 attacks since 2006, including 11 with firearms. At least 116 people have been killed and 387 injured, it said. As in the Siege movement, to which the arrested man belongs, the idea of arming for a „racial civil war“ is widespread in the far-right scene, the agency said said.

Image: Europol.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.