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Libya Weapons and where they are heading!

Interesting Article: "U.K. warns of growing al-Qaeda risk in North Africa" by ASSOCIATED PRESS / London published Wednesday, November 30, 2011.

A recent article mentioned that Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said that there is a risk mercenary fighters driven out of Libya could switch allegiance to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Hague told the House of Commons on Monday that Britain is also concerned that weapons from unguarded stockpiles in Libya may have fallen into AQIM hands following dictator Moammar Gadhafi's fall. Hague said there was an escalating threat across the entire Sahel region, which stretches from Mauritania to Chad. So what types of weapons are getting out of Libya, and to whom is it going to?

As the Libyan regime of Moammar Gadhafi withered and died after months of combat with rebel forces, the weapons that the dictator stockpiled in his 42‑year reign came up for grabs. As the fighting in Libya intensified, concerns within NATO began to grow over the fate of thousands of Russian-made SA-24 man-portable air-defense systems (Manpads) that were in stockpiles. As the fighting in Libya intensified, concerns within NATO began to grow over the fate of thousands of Russian-made SA-24 man-portable air-defense systems (Manpads) that were in stockpiles. (I mentioned in depth about this in a previous blog post: Is Libya on the way to a failed state? & blog post: Al Qaeda larger influence in Libya than originally reported! & Al Qaeda admits to receiving Libyan Arms after Revolution!). In November, Al Qaeda’s North Africa affiliate claimed it had acquired part of this deadly arsenal. Speaking with the Mauritanian news agency ANI, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, one of the leaders of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, said that “we have been one of the main beneficiaries of the revolutions in the Arab world,” especially since the group has acquired “Libyan armament,” although he refused to describe what the group claims to have. In addition,  Of the 23 tons of mustard agent that Gadhafi claimed to have in 2003 when he made his bid to remove Libya from the international list of pariah states, there are still 9 metric tons in the Libyan desert. The program to destroy the stockpiles began in late 2010, and by February all but the last 9 tons had been destroyed. The mustard agent (which is unweaponized) is out there “without any sort of knowledge over its security or whether it was being sold,” according to nonproliferation expert Paul Walker, director of security and sustainability at Global Green USA. International weapons inspectors are due to arrive in Libya before the end of the year, but the fact that there is so much of this dangerous gas in such an unstable environment is cause for concern. What is clear is al Qaeda push to benefit from Libya’s downfall. Starting in early 2011, al-Zawahiri (who replaced bin Laden as al Qaeda’s number one) released a series of five recordings, three of which specifically address the protest movements. In trying to connect al Qaeda’s long-standing and violent struggle against the secular (and “apostate”) regimes of Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Jordan, al-Zawahiri’s objective is to paint the enemies of the Arab Spring and the enemies of al Qaeda as one and the same. This is why al-Zawahiri, after congratulating the masses, immediately called for the establishment of pure Islamic governance, warning that, without it, these recent popular achievements would be lost. In the chaos that followed the revolutions, al Qaeda’s African allies may find opportunities to regroup, recover, and re-emerge. As Philip Mudd, former Deputy Director of the Counterterrorist Center at the CIA, illustrates, opening the democratic space and establishing competing political parties in the MENA region might lead to “ethnic and religious fissures that turn violent.” Think of Lebanon or Iraq. Taking advantage of the chaos and the shifting security environment in the region makes sense. Political prisoners held as suspected extremists in Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan, and Yemeni jails have been freed; some might be susceptible to al Qaeda’s advances. As well, domestic instability will provide increasingly porous and under-defended borders, easing the movement of people, contraband, and weapons between and within African countries. In this regard, Islamist militants are suspected of having fought alongside the Libyan rebels and might be able to carve out a regional haven and attract supporters. As for al Shabaab, it simply has to look north, over the Gulf of Aden into Yemen at al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP has gained ground as the Yemeni government has faltered. Since May 2011, for instance, AQAP has consolidated its foothold and taken over towns in southern Yemen as government forces ceded control. Al Shabaab, already suspected of having close links to AQAP, could catch a needed windfall as a result of AQAP’s growing regional influence. For AQIM, Libya poses a unique opportunity. Numerous accounts suggest that AQIM took advantage of the civil war to help itself to Colonel Gaddafi’s weapons stockpiles that were “liberated” by anti-government forces. In April 2011, Idriss Deby, President of Chad, noted that he was “100 per cent” certain that AQIM had pillaged military caches in eastern Libya and acquired heavy weapons. His assertion was repeated by the President of Niger and various Algerian officials and later confirmed, in November 2011, by AQIM itself. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, one of AQIM’s leaders, told Mauritanian reporters that “it was perfectly natural” that AQIM had “acquired Libyan weapons.” U.S. government estimates suggest that Gaddafi amassed roughly 20,000 of these rockets. Even if only a handful of these weapons reach al Qaeda, a repeat of its 2002 attack in Mombasa, Kenya, in which two shoulder-launched missiles were fired against an Israeli-owned charter plane taking off from Moi International Airport, remains a distinct possibility. And while U.S. officials have predicted that most of Libya’s unsecured MANPADS are still in the country, the Israelis are not taking any chances. In November 2011, Israeli officials said they were accelerating a program to equip all commercial jets flown by El Al and two other Israeli airline companies with locally made anti-missile defense systems that can “blind” heat-seeking missiles with lasers. The Israeli government is expected to foot the $1.5 million bill the program will cost. For Israelis, the worry is that Libyan MANPADS will reach Hamas in the Gaza Strip and other al Qaeda-linked militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and from there find their way to the West Bank and in range of planes heading to and from Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport. “We have long been aware of the threat,” an Israeli official noted, “and we’re ahead of the rest of the world in preparing for it.” Unfortunately for the rest of us, no other government is likely to pre-emptively follow suit until a Libyan MANPAD is actually pointed at a commercial aircraft. Let us hope that does not take place.



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