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24 Dec, 2013 07:09

World's most iconic rifle: AK-47 in pictures

World's most iconic rifle: AK-47 in pictures

Take a tour to see how the world’s most popular weapon, AK-47, has made its way around the world, crossing borders, conflict zones, and generations.

The inventor of the AK-47 assault rifle, Mikhail Kalashnikov, died on Monday at the age of 94.

Among the reasons why the AK-47 is so popular across the globe include its robustness, durability, and ease of use. The Kalashnikov can be dropped in water, mud, practically anything in fact, and it still functions.

Russian soldiers march during a rehearsal for a May 9 victory parade in Dvortsovaya Square in St.Petersburg April 22, 2009. (Reuters / Alexander Demianchuk)

Apparently, the weapon boasts over 500 modifications worldwide, far more than any other weapon. Fellow gun makers once presented the creator of the AK-47, Mikhail Kalashnikov, with a fully functional two-thirds’ size copy of the assault rifle.

Federal policemen stand guard behind an AK-47 rifle and ammunition, confiscated during the arrest of suspect Ramiro Pozos Gonzalez alias "El Molca ", during a presentation to the media at the federal police headquarters in Mexico City September 12, 2012. (Reuters / Bernardo Montoya)

The firepower of AK-47 is legendary: the rifle can send a bullet through a brick wall, a light armored vehicle and even steel train rails. For decades, no bulletproof vest could withstand a round from an AK-47.

The legendary weapon started to gain popularity in the 1960s, and since then it has been employed in practically every military conflict on the planet. Apart from the Warsaw Pact countries, which use and produce the gun by default, the AK-47 assault rifle became popular with many guerrilla organizations during postcolonial wars.

A young Palestinian woman is trained in shooting an AK-47 automatic assault rifle as she wears a protective flak jacket during a graduation exercise in a military-style summer camp held August 10, 2000 outside Nablus in the northern West Bank. (Reuters)

The AK-47 has been used in over 100 countries around the world. People in Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and many African countries have grown up with the weapon and are used to having AK-47’s around.

Policewomen practise assembling and disassembling a Kalashnikov automatic rifle during a training course at a police academy in Kerbala, 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Baghdad April 27, 2011. (Reuters / Mushtaq Muhammed)

The Vietnam War was the first war that was won with the AK-47. In the Vietnamese jungle, American soldiers found out quickly that the AK-47 worked well in any conditions: its bullets pierced heavy jungle vegetation and didn’t ricochet. In fact, the gun was extensively used on both sides.

Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agent Tom Mangan (L) explains how an AK47 is fired to Reuters correspondent Tim Gaynor during a demonstration of the firepower of weapons commonly used by criminals along the U.S.-Mexican border at the Ben Avery Shooting Range in Phoenix, Arizona, March 10, 2008. (Reuters / Rick Scuteri)

The weapon was very popular with many notable leaders like Fidel Castro, as well as with notorious terrorists such as Osama bin Laden.

Kalashnikov’s invention made him well known, but his legacy remains controversial. He described himself as proud of his invention, even though he criticized the use of the weapon by terrorists.

"I invented it for the protection of the Motherland. I have no regrets and bear no responsibility for how politicians have used it,” Kalashnikov said. "I'm proud of my invention, but I'm sad that it is used by terrorists.”

Osama Bin Laden (Reuters / Hamid Mir / Editor / Ausaf Newspaper for Daily Dawn)

Saddam Hussein brandishing a Russian-made AK 47 assault rifle during his visit to villages in northern Iraq. (AFP)

Its popularity is also grounded in the weapon’s sheer length of service. It’s been in use now in various guises for over 60 years, and probably has another 20 years of life left in it.

A female Afghan National Police (ANP) officer gives instructions during a patrol training session, at a training centre near the German Bundeswehr army camp in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan December 3, 2012. (Reuters / Fabrizio Bensch)

It’s been estimated that there are 100 million AK-47’s in commission around the world, according to the author of ‘Kalashnikov in Combat’, Anthony Tucker Jones.

Afghan women carry Soviet AK-47's during a parade of village defense forces in 1988. (Reuters / Richard Ellis)

The recognizable form of the AK-47 assault rifle has been used for producing merchandise - almost anything, from bottles of vodka to national flags.

Colombian artist, Cesar Lopez, transformed a dozen AK-47s into guitars, with the then UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, receiving one of these unusual musical instruments as a gift in 2007.

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan displays a AK47 gun transformed to a guitar at Vienna's U.N. headquarters September 11, 2007. (Reuters / Herwig Prammer)