DOHA (Reuters) - A French missile once owned by Qatar's military and found among a huge arsenal of weapons seized in Italy was sold by Qatar 25 years ago to a third country, Qatar's foreign ministry told Reuters on Tuesday.
Italian police said on Monday that a French-made Matra air-to-air missile belonging to Qatar's armed forces was discovered during raids on neo-Nazi sympathizers.
In a statement to Reuters, Qatar said the missile was part of a larger weapons sale made to a third "friendly" country 25 years earlier, though it did not identify the third country.
"The authorities in Qatar have immediately started an investigation alongside the respective Italian authorities and the authorities of another friendly nation to which the Matra missile was sold 25 years ago," foreign ministry spokeswoman Lolwah Alkhater said in a statement.
"The captured Matra Super530 missile was sold by Qatar in the year 1994 in a deal that included 40 Matra Super 530 missiles to a friendly nation that wishes not to be named at this point of the investigation," said Alkhater.
Italian police said the suspects had tried to sell the missile in conversations with contacts on the WhatsApp messaging network. Subsequent checks showed the weapon was in working condition but lacked an explosive charge.
"Qatar is working very closely now with the pertinent parties including Italy to unveil the facts and it is very concerned as to how a missile sold 25 years ago ended up in the hands of a third non-state party," said Alkhater.
Elite police forces searched properties across northern Italy following an investigation into Italians who had fought in eastern Ukraine in the conflict between the Kyiv government's forces and Russian-backed separatists.
Among other weapons uncovered in the raids were 26 guns, 20 bayonets, 306 gun parts, including silencers and rifle scopes, and more than 800 bullets of various calibres. The arms were primarily from Austria, Germany and the United States.
(Reporting by Eric Knecht; Editing by Gareth Jones)