One week ago, Austin Tice sent me four pictures he took of a FAL 50.00 rifle used by an opposition fighter during target practice in Daraya, near Damascus, Syria. One of these pictures, above, appeared on this website and I said then that it had quite a special place in this collection of FAL rifles spotted in Syria. But why?
Well, first I apologize for taking so long to come back to it. It has to do with the print version of this story. Now that the article has been published by Le Soir (in French, in Belgium), we can go on here and give some explanations.
The picture published earlier is special because it came in my inbox with others, showing some details of the rifle, markings and absence of markings. Before we get started, we will assume that the kit has not been modified since manufacture, and we’ll see what we can try to decipher from this FAL rifle.
First of all, take a good look at the picture opening this article. What do you see?
Not much, because it was taken against the light, but already some pretty interesting details.
Look at the buttstock of this FAL: a plastic stock, model D, which is the latest variation of the FAL buttstocks but does not offer a precise production timeframe. We can see arabic numbers painted on this one. As we saw it already, this seems not to be uncommon and could be related to the original user of the weapon – an army, be it the Syrian one or another one – or to an inventory process post-diversion.
The rear iron through which this combatant aims is also a variation worth noticing: it is low compared to the previous model and was introduced around 1958. But let’s move on to the handguard, which provide more interesting information: it is a model B, glass-fiber reinforced plastic handguard, with three horizontal ventilation holes on each side, and with grooves to accept folded bipod legs. Germany, Austria, Holland and Israel adopted a different kind of handguard. This would mean that this rifle, at first, was not part of their arsenal.
The grooves are quite important here. Offered as an option as from 1978, this variation allows us to narrow a production timeframe: this rifle found its first destination after 1978.
Here is a second picture, where the grooves appear clearly.
Let’s turn the rifle for a second and look at the left side before coming back to the right one.
What can we see here, and what can’t we?
Beside “FAL cal. 7.62”, no other marking appears.
On some FAL rifles, there could be a serial number on the left side. It is not the case here.
Something has been written in arabic on this side of the magazine. And there is another unidentified mark on the stock.
Let’s come back to the right side, zoom, and put the rifle in the light of the day. These last details provide some interesting pieces of information as well.
What we see is a Type III upper receiver, introduced in 1973. The factory markings on it read “Fabrique Nationale Herstal Belgique”. And the serial number is 1462215.
Something has been written on this side of the magazine as well. Apart from that, there is no other marking. This absence would lead us to assume that this rifle was produced in Belgium, and not in one of the countries manufacturing FAL rifles under license. The right side serial number, in this case, could correspond to the total number of FAL rifles produced by the Fabrique Nationale Herstal when this particular one was made.
In conclusion, according to the signs studied above, we have here a FAL rifle produced in Belgium by F.N. around, or not long after, 1978.
Where does that rifle come from? That’s the million dollar question, and it is not possible to answer with the elements we saw.
According to the literature, the Syrian army adopted the FAL rifle in 1956, but there is no trace of trials rifles sent to Syria in that period, nor later. According to Jane’s, Syria has FAL rifles in its inventory, but the weapon is not listed as “in service”. Not much information is available at this point.
It was possible to obtain the Belgian arms export licenses for 1969-1974 and 1980-1982. In July 1969, the Belgian government issued an export license for 100 FAL rifles sold to Syria. Nothing else until 1974. Then no data available until 1980, where there are traces of a license issued for 1,200 rounds “calibre 7.62” and one “machine gun calibre 7.62mm”, but no rifle.
A tracing procedure on the serial number we observed here is only possible under very special circumstances in Belgium, and the results are not public. It is thus not possible, at the moment, to localize the first point of diversion of the weapon.
Although we still have to see FAL rifles in the hands of Syrian soldiers who did not defect, it is not possible so far to rule out the hypothesis that FAL rifles equipping the opposition fighters – as we documented them on this website – come from the Syrian army small arms stocks and were captured by the opposition or brought with the defectors when they fled.
A thorough examination of several FAL rifles and 7.62x51mm rounds is needed, as well as extensive interviews of the fighters bearing those weapons.
If you feel you can weigh in the observations made in this article, please feel free to contact me at damien [dot] spleeters [at] gmail [dot] com
Photos: Austin Tice, and AFP for the first one. These pictures are posted here solely for the purpose of documenting the FAL rifle presence in the 2011-2012 Syrian conflict and not for any commercial use. You can follow Austin Tice on Twitter : @Austin_Tice