Richard Norton-Taylor and Nick Hopkins
Friday, September 2, 2011
Comment: The spin here is that only African Gaddafi mercenaries are looting the weapons. In reality, terrorist rebel groups controlled by Al-Qaeda commanders control the major cities – they are the ones with direct access to the weapon stockpiles.
Libya must urgently secure weapons hoarded by the Gaddafi regime amid growing fears that smugglers are exploiting the chaos there to loot hundreds of portable missiles and other small arms, western officials have warned.
The US and Nato are pressing the National Transitional Council to make the issue a priority because of concerns that the trade has already begun, with reports that some African mercenaries who fought for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi are returning home laden with weapons.
One anxiety is that Gaddafi’s remaining stockpile of shoulder-launched missiles could end up in the hands of terrorists.
The UK’s National Security Council raised the issue with Libyan rebels in March and the Guardian understands that US officials based in Benghazi are now taking a lead in helping to identify where the caches may be, and how best to protect them. The UK and France have special forces in Libya, but officials would not be drawn on whether the soldiers are now involved in anti-smuggling operations.