Internet Buzzing Over Mystery Weapon Found in Iraq

Friday , February 16, 2007

By Sara Bonisteel




The photo of a "mystery weapon" found by GIs and a Web journalist in Iraq two years ago has captured the imagination of bloggers around the world eager to answer the question: What is it?

The photo, which shows what appears to be a weapon, about 3-feet long, resembling a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launcher, was taken by Michael Yon, a writer and photographer currently based in Iraq. He photographed the "weapon" in 2005 as he was cataloging a huge cache of munitions discovered by Iraqi police under a barn in Mosul and later destroyed by the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment.

As U.S. military officials linked Iran to the Iraq weapons-supply chain on Sunday, Yon scanned his photos from the Mosul horde and decided to post the photo to his blog,, prompting hundreds of responses to what it could possibly be.

"It's got everybody and their grandmother wondering what the thing is and nobody really seems to know," said Yon, a former special ops weapons specialist.

DO YOU THINK YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS? If so, email your guess to:

Click here to read Yon's 'Mystery Weapon' posting.

Bloggers surmised the item could be anything from a homemade RPG to a Palestinian-made anti-tank launcher called the Yasin.

One crafty blogger even tried to convince readers it was a toy by digitally manipulating the item into the equipment of Special Ops Cody, the military doll at the center of a February 2005 soldier kidnap hoax video posted to an Islamic militant Web site.

Yon said the weapon was part of the largest cache of munitions he's seen in Iraq — a storehouse of arms he dubbed the "Devil's Foyer" that included RPGs, surface-to-air missiles, blasting caps, anti-tank mines, mortar rounds, anti-personnel mines and the as-of-yet unidentified firing object.

Click here to read about the Devil's Foyer.

"If I saw that anywhere other than amongst all those other weapons, I would have said, 'What in the world is that thing?" Yon told by phone from Baghdad. "'Maybe it's some kind of potato launcher.'" circulated the photo on Thursday to military weapons experts and received the following responses:

— "On closer inspection, the launcher on the bottom is a Chinese Type 69 launcher. The object in the foreground is not a rocket, but is an RPG-2 or RPG-7 launcher. The front area is missing the heat shield and is a little scorched, but you can see the brown baked heat shield clearly where the launcher would rest on your shoulder. You can also see the small carry handle on top. It's an older model with iron sights. The green launcher on the top looks to be a Hezbollah manufactured improvised 57mm electrical firing system. It can fire Soviet 57mm rockets. The power source and firing mechanism should all be contained in the grip stock/rear handle. If they take it apart, the batteries may give it all away. There are probably traceable markings on the batteries."

— "From the round in the foreground, it's clearly an RPG launcher of some sort. I've looked through all my "Janes: Weapons of the World" [books] and can't find anything like it. My first thought: it's homemade. A close look at how close the butt-stock is to the rear of the launcher tells me that the shooter will be hard of hearing when he meets the 72 virgins."

— "Looks kind of Eastern European, or maybe... made in Al Qaeda shop class and stole the scope off daddy's hunting rifle... look for [someone] with a bloody ear and singed hair."

— "My guess is that this is a mock up of a weapon, or an improvised munition. For one thing, the telescopic site is attached to a plate that is welded on. Second, both the front handle and the butt are screwed on — notice the screw holes on both at the bottoms. This would impair the integrity of the barrel, making it liable to explode if it were fired. Next, the butt end of the weapon is too close to the rear of the weapon, and there is no blast shield. Finally, if you measure the projectile, which has a firing pin at the bottom (the small dot) and hold the measurement up to the barrel of the weapon, the trigger is about two inches short of the firing pin. One thing I do know is that if this thing were going to work, it would take an extended trigger mechanism... It also could be a refitted German-made Armbrust recoiless rifle, fitted with a grenade launcher on front, to hold RPG rounds. It is, by any definition, an improvised munition."

Whatever it is, Yon told that he and the rest of the troops on site couldn't figure it out, and he hasn't seen another one like it.

Nathan Hodge, a reporter at Jane's Defence Weekly, couldn't identify the weapon for Thursday.

"It looks kind of like an RPG, but I've never seen anything like this before," Hodge said.

Yon brushed aside Web claims that the weapon might be a toy.

"I've held and fired so many weapons in my life, if it were clearly a toy I would have known it the instant I either saw it or picked it up," he said.

Iraq is awash in munitions from around the globe, Yon said. Troops routinely see arms from South Africa, China and Russia among other nations.

Interestingly, Iran is one of the biggest makers of RPG launchers, producing several Soviet-era versions that are used by militia groups around the world.

"People are saying there's a huge amount of munitions flowing in from Iran and that's the proximate cause of all our problems," Yon said. "You know there probably really are munitions coming in from Iran — I don't doubt that at all — but in reality, the big problem is what's already in the ground here."

But of all the weapons he's seen on the ground in Iraq, this one remains a mystery.

The Web posting "kind of gained more momentum than I ever expected that it would," Yon said. "It's gotten a little sensational, but I'm still kind of curious to know what the heck the thing is."'s George Kindel contributed to this report