President Itno of Chad warned of missile surface to air missiles going missing from Libya back in March, as did sources from Mali and Niger. Itno warned that pillaged weapons were falling into the hands of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the danger.
Tensions are growing between members of Libya’s National Transitional Council and the different factions of rebel fighters. As signs of a power struggle become evident NATO members are becoming increasingly concerned regarding the high number of missing surface to air missiles that have been looted.
Last week the Arab American reported “a potent stash of Russian-made surface to air missiles is missing from a huge Tripoli weapons warehouse amid reports of weapons looting across war-torn Libya.” It was reported that Islamic fighters, amongst others, had helped themselves to weapons which would either fetch a high price on the black market or could be used by insurgents within Libya. Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch said "We are talking about some 20,000 surface-to-air missiles in all of Libya, and I've seen cars packed with them. They could turn all of North Africa into a no-fly zone.”The issue has been documented as far back as March when Libya’s neighbors’ expressed anxiety over the number of weapons pillaged from Libya, passing into the hands of the terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. President Idriss Deby Itno of Chad said “The Islamists of al-Qaeda took advantage of the pillaging of arsenals in the rebel zone to acquire arms, including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries in Tenere,"News Australia reported. Itno claimed “This is very serious. AQIM is becoming a genuine army, the best equipped in the region.”
Sources from Mali and Niger each concurred with Itno’s conclusion saying they too had information concerning AQIM acquiring weapons from Libya. Additionally the Chadian President asserted “I am certain that AQIM took part in the uprising” confirming Gaddaf’s claims that rebels had al-Qaeda members amidst their numbers.
AQIM have been particularly active in recent months, claiming responsibility for bomb attacks in Algeria and Tunisia. The group originated in Libya but hides out in the Sahara region, posing a threat to nearby countries. It funds its operations through foreign kidnappings and drug running. During the last decade AQIM forged links with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group which is known to have sent more terrorists to Iraq than any other nation excepting Saudi Arabia. Many fighters from eastern Libya arrived in Iraq, professing their career as suicide bombers.
The new military commander of Tripoli, Abdel Hakim Belhadj was a founder of LIFG and a former terrorist suspect, but now denies the group had any links with al-Qaeda. As the professed aim of many LIFG members was not only to overthrow Gaddafi but to subject Libya to Shariha law, they can expect the support of AQIM whom share their agenda, if the situation between the National Transitional Council and the rebel fighters deteriorates further. The New York Times reports that the appointment of Belhadj to the council aroused some criticism from other council members.
Meanwhile the weapons remain missing, further threatening security in the area and in the Mediterranean.