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Automatic rifle that was brought into the United States as a war trophy is claimed by Iraq

NEW YORK - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents recovered a chrome-plated AK-47 fully automatic rifle that once belonged to the late dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. The rifle, which had been in the possession of the U.S. Army, was flown by the U.S. Air Force to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, where ICE agents took custody of it.

The Iraqi government contacted the ICE New York Office of Investigations, which handles cultural heritage investigations, asking assistance in finding this Iraqi property believed to be in the United States. ICE agents located the AK-47 in Fort Lewis, Wash., at the headquarters of the U.S. Army 3rd Striker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. The AK-47 had been brought to the United States legally via official Army channels with the intent of placing it in a military museum as a war trophy. The Army immediately agreed to turn the rifle over to ICE.

"We praise the U.S. Army for its full cooperation in turning this cultural artifact over to ICE," said Peter J. Smith, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New York. "We can now work to comply with the Iraqi government's wishes and desire to take back a priceless symbol of Iraqi history." Smith said that the rifle will remain in ICE custody until arrangements can be made to repatriate it to Iraq.

This rare chrome rifle, which has a pearl handle grip and a small photograph of Saddam Hussein near the front sight, is a highly prized souvenir in the Middle East. It is believed the late dictator gave similar weapons as gifts to high-ranking members of his Ba'ath Party and dignitaries.

Investigating the loss or theft of cultural heritage properties and returning them to their countries of origin are an important part of ICE's diverse mission. ICE, as a legacy of the U.S. Customs Service, has authorities that target a wide range of criminal activities and often investigates leads to art and artifacts that are important evidence of another nation's history and cultural heritage. ICE takes pride in returning to other nations these priceless items.