By Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Some assault rifles used by the Islamic militants in the Nov 13 Paris attacks and later seized in police raids were produced in the former Yugoslavia's state arsenal, the company's director said on Saturday.
Milojko Brzakovic, director of the Zastava (Banner) Arms factory in the city of Kragujevac in central Serbia, said that they were part of a batch of M70 assault rifles, a improved Yugoslav copy of the Soviet-designed AK47, produced in 1987 and 1988.
"We have checked seven, maybe eight serial numbers received from the police in our database and found that guns from that particular batch were sent to military depots in Slovenia, Bosnia and Macedonia," Brzakovic told Reuters.
Zastava Arms, then called Zavodi Crvena Zastava, served as the sole state arsenal for small arms for the now-defunct Communist Yugoslav army and police. It still produces weapons for the Serbian government, hunting and sports.
In the 1970s and 1990s the company was also a major arms exporter to the then-Yugoslavia's allies in Africa, Asia and the Middle East and it is still a exports to a number of markets including the United States.
"There's no doubt they were produced by us (Zastava Arms), we were the only producer then, and we have serial numbers of everything we ever produced, but in the 1990s anyone could get a hold of them in army depots," he said.
Most of the Western Balkans is awash with hundreds of thousands of illegal weapons that remained in private hands and organized crime gangs following wars and unrest in the 1990s and weapons smuggling persists.
"Sales are now tightly controlled by the government and every piece of weapons slated for export must be approved by authorities and accounted for," he said.
Brzakovic said that police also inquired about a CZ99 9mm pistol, also a Zastava Oruzje product since 1980s.
"We have found it went to a company registered for weapons retail in Serbia and now the police will find the first buyer and follow the trail of the gun."
(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)