Lethal Weapon: The Homemade Gun That’s Firing Up the Terror Wave

Israeli police first came across the 'Carlo' submachine gun in the 2000s, but downplayed its importance. The Shin Bet was equally dismissive, but now it’s become a symbol of the current spate of killings.

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Variants of the 'Carlo' submachine gun found by the Israeli police. The weapons in the bottom right image were used during a terror attack in Jerusalem.
Variants of the 'Carlo' submachine gun found by the Israeli police. The weapons in the bottom right image were used during a terror attack in Jerusalem.Credit: Israel Police

A thin strand connects the three most recent shootings in Jerusalem. Similar to other incidents characterizing the current wave of terror, the terrorists didn’t know each other, there was no guiding hand, and there was no coordination. However, all of the attackers used the same weapon – a “Carlo,” as it’s known on the street.

It’s a homemade imitation of the Swedish-made Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, which was used primarily in the 1950s and ’60s. This primitive rip-off may be a retro step, but it’s cheap and widely available. Also, it’s not really new.

Israeli security forces are very familiar with it, because it’s been around for more than a decade. However, because it was mainly used in the underworld, its name didn’t hit the headlines and no one tried to stop its manufacture or use.

Israel Police officers first encountered the Carlo in the 2000s, among Israeli-Arab criminals. The guns were few in number at the time, and used primarily for self-defense and firing into the air at weddings. However, over the years, as the illegal market for standard weapons became more and more expensive – Kalashnikov and Tavor rifles can cost between 60,000 to 80,000 shekels ($15,400-$20,500) – the Carlo was improved and became more widespread. Today, almost anyone can pick up the weapon from a starting price of around 3,000 shekels, up to northward of 17,000 shekels for an especially high-quality version.

Now, however, after the security situation in Jerusalem deteriorated, an assailant killed Border Policewoman Hadar Cohen with one of the weapons in February, and other officers and civilians have been wounded in attacks involving the Carlo, the Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet security service and police have decided to set up a joint task force to halt production of the rifle.

The question some are asking is where this cooperation was in the past – for example, in January 2012. That month, the police investigated an incident that led to the indictment of two Lod residents, Khamis Dasuki (then 24) and Jidua Azbargeh (then 31), on 36 counts of illegal arms trading. According to the indictment, Dasuki was not particularly choosy and was happy to sell weapons to any interested party – from major criminals, to people who wanted a gun for a celebration, to 16-year-old youths fighting with classmates.

However, the detail that really caught the attention of Israel Police Central District commander Yigal Ben Shalom was that in one surveillance tape after another, he heard talk of trips to Nablus to acquire a weapon called a Carlo, from a lathe shop in nearby Hawara. But when the police sought the cooperation of the Shin Bet to locate the lathe shop and halt production of the weapon, they were given the cold shoulder.

Officials familiar with the case recalled that the Shin Bet had said it would be a shame to reveal its operational ability for this purpose, since investigators would have to testify in court. Ultimately, the police raided the lathe shop with the assistance of the army. However, the affair ended here, without additional intelligence-gathering to determine the extent of production and use of the Carlo.

This was not the only instance. Police officials say that over the years, they held numerous discussions about illegal weapons in Arab society, and the Carlo name kept coming up. Some of the discussions were held with the participation of the most senior of officers, including former police chiefs Dudi Cohen and Yohanan Danino. However, the Shin Bet kept refusing to cooperate, the police say.

“The Shin Bet did not see a criminal issue affecting Arab communities as something that would one day be on their doorstep,” says a senior security official familiar with the issue. “Their primary effort was against the main terror organizations – Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad – and not the criminal from [Israeli-Arab town] Tira.” However, the Carlo took hold – and it looks like it’s here to stay.

The Hawara lathe shop the police raided was just one of many factories manufacturing the weapon in the Nablus area. When demand for the gun increased, new weapons factories opened up around Hebron.

Unlike the Carl Gustav prototype, the Carlo is self-manufactured. Consequently, one rifle doesn’t necessarily resemble the next. They’re manufactured from weapons that were originally used in paintball ranges and were subsequently sent to be scrapped. However, weapons-makers in lathe shops affix a 9mm bore to them and fill them with ammunition, creating a deadly weapon.

There are also lathe shops where youths manufacture even lower-quality guns. The Carlo used to shoot Hadar Cohen in the back was one such weapon. It was assembled with a magazine from an M16, while the barrel was a metal water pipe. It still killed her.

Not only is the production of the Carlo commonplace and simple, it’s also easy to put in the hands of anyone who wants it – as indicated by the story of a Palestinian who was convicted of weapons possession who later got his conviction overturned on appeal at the Supreme Court. He was acquitted last March because the police didn’t check any part of his confession and failed to find the weapon. However, according to his confession in the initial interrogation, the man, a resident of East Jerusalem, approached a weapons dealer in the eastern part of the city to buy a gun and use it at a relative’s wedding.

The two agreed to meet in Nablus. After checking the gun and haggling over the price (receiving an extra 45 bullets for 3,500 shekels), the buyer returned to Jerusalem by bus while keeping the gun and ammunition in his laptop bag. He got off at the Qalandiyah checkpoint and left the weapon and ammunition on the bus, which was waiting for the passengers. Upon returning to the bus, he collected the gun and ammo, and hid them in his parents’ home – where he lived – behind his bedroom closet.

As far as the police are concerned, finding such weapons is nothing new. In the Northern District alone, the police seized no fewer than 66 rifles, most of them Carlos, in 2011. That number had risen to 86 in 2014. As a result, these weapons’ use in the current wave of terror has come as no surprise to police officers.

“The attackers today are lone wolves – at most three or four friends who decide to carry out a terror attack,” says a senior security official. “It’s not the case of an established terror organization with money and institutional donors, whose representative visits Gulf states and Africa to acquire weapons that then arrive in deliveries.

“Here, one can obtain a weapon for 3,000-4,000 shekels and perpetrate a single attack they will all talk about,” he observes. “They steal a vehicle from Israel, sell it and buy these rifles [with the proceeds]. It’s not cutting-edge technology, but it shoots and kills – and that creates the noise they are seeking.”

The Shin Bet rejects accusations that it overlooked the problem. “In line with its goals, over the years the Shin Bet has dealt with thwarting terror in the West Bank, in cooperation with the IDF and Israel Police. This includes dealing with the weapons issue with all the means at its disposal.”

Yaniv Kubovich contributed to this report.

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