Looted Libyan arms may land in hands of terrorists, warn experts

March 4th, 2011 - 1:38 pm ICT by ANI  

New York/Washington, Mar. 4 (ANI): Security analysts say the armed uprising in Libya could see looted weapons in wide circulation, and landing in the hands of terrorists.

Photographs and video from the ongoing uprising in Libya show civilians carrying a full array of what were once Libyan military’s weapons - like the SA-7, an early-generation, shoulder-fired missile in the same family as the more widely known Stinger.

They also show large groups of young men equipped with a complete suite of lightweight, simple-to-use and durable infantry arms, including assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, which have been a staple of fighting in Africa and Asia since midway through the cold war.

Mines, grenades and several types of antitank missiles can be seen as well, the New York Times reports.

Analysts are particularly concerned about the heat-seeking missiles, known as Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems, or Manpads.

“The danger of these missiles ending up in the hands of terrorists and insurgents outside of Libya is very real,” the NYT quoted Matthew Schroeder, the director of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, as saying.

He added: “Securing these missiles should be a top priority of the U.S. intelligence community and their counterparts overseas.”

The principal threat, the analysts said, is not necessarily that the rebels themselves, who want international sympathy and support, might use such weapons against airliners. Rather, the concern is that because these missiles can sell for at least several thousand dollars on black markets, opportunists will gather and offer them to third parties - pushing them into the underground trade.

They also claim that the Libyan military was not particularly well led, competent or large at the start of this conflict. It is an army of roughly 45,000 soldiers, according to an assessment by Jane’s Information Group.

But over the decades, Colonel Qaddafi has spent heavily to equip his forces and amass reserve munitions and arms. He has been accused of procuring weapons to pass on to many foreign groups, including Palestinian and Irish fighters, rebel groups and friendly governments in sub-Saharan Africa.

The weapons that have emerged from storehouses in recent days confirm that despite international sanctions, Libya had acquired arms from multiple sellers in the former Eastern bloc, accumulating an arsenal that looks like the bounty of cold war clearance sales.

The rebels’ newly acquired equipment ranges from dilapidated tanks designed more than a half-century ago to the relatively recent Russian assault-rifle variants.

Mixed in are rifles of Romanian, Hungarian and Russian provenance, along with crates of ammunition from Norinco, one of the principal arms-manufacturers in China.

Peter Danssaert, a researcher for the International Peace Information Service in Belgium who covers arms proliferation in Eastern Europe and Africa, said that now that the weapons were out of government custody, few would be recovered.

“They are gone forever” from state accountability, he said.

Nic Marsh, who researches the small-arms trade for the Peace Research Institute Oslo in Norway, said the weapons could move in many directions, to Chad or Sudan, to Algeria or to Palestinian fighters.

If the battles in Libya turn into a long war, the two sides might actually import more weapons to sustain their fighting.

But once the uprising is resolved, if history is a guide, the weapons stand to be sold off piece by piece. (ANI)

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