Austrian sniper rifles that were exported to Iran have been discovered in the hands of Iraqi terrorists, The Daily Telegraph has learned.
More than 100 of the .50 calibre weapons, capable of penetrating body armour, have been discovered by American troops during raids.
A Steyr HS50 rifle, Austrian supplied rifles, arms trade, Iran equipping Iraq insurgents
The Steyr HS50 is a long range, high precision rifle
The guns were part of a shipment of 800 rifles that the Austrian company, Steyr-Mannlicher, exported legally to Iran last year.
The sale was condemned in Washington and London because officials were worried that the weapons would be used by insurgents against British and American troops.
Within 45 days of the first HS50 Steyr Mannlicher rifles arriving in Iran, an American officer in an armoured vehicle was shot dead by an Iraqi insurgent using the weapon.
Over the last six months American forces have found small caches of the Â£10,000 rifles but in the last 24 hours a raid in Baghdad brought the total to more than 100, US defence sources reported.
The find is the latest in a series of discoveries that indicate that Teheran is providing support to Iraq’s Shia insurgents.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, yesterday denied that Iran had supplied weapons to Iraqi insurgents. But on Sunday US officials in Baghdad displayed a range of weapons they claimed had originated in Iran.
They said 170 American and British soldiers had been killed by such weapons.
The discovery of the sniper rifles will further encourage those in Washington who want to see Iran’s uranium-enriching facilities destroyed before a nuclear weapon is produced.
The Foreign Office expressed “serious concerns” over the sale of the rifles last year and Britain protested to the Austrian government.
A Foreign Office spokesman said last night: “Although we did make our worries known the sale unfortunately went ahead and now the potential that these weapons could fall into the wrong hands appears to have happened.”
The rifle can pierce all body armour from up to a mile and penetrate armoured Humvee troop carriers.
It is highly accurate and fires a round called an armour piercing incendiary, a bullet that the Iranians manufacture.
The National Iranian Police Organisation bought the rifles allegedly to use them against drug smugglers in an Â£8 million order placed with Steyr in 2005.
The company was given permission to export them by the Austrian government, which is not a Nato member.