An unstable country on the brink of civil war is not all former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi left behind after his death last year. A vast collection of weapons remains in an abandoned desert warehouse in southern Libya, The Times reported on Tuesday.As always, the Islamists benefit from power vacuums in the Middle East. And as always, the West cannot think more than one move ahead in the game of international chess.
The arsenal reportedly includes 4,000 surface-to-air missiles, each capable of downing a passenger jet, and thousands of barrels of uranium yellowcake. An inventory collected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) accounted for 6,400 yellowcake barrels.
Bharuddin Midhoun Arifi, a former human trafficker and now commander of 2,000 fighters in the city of Sabha, was one of the main inheritors of the regime’s abandoned weapon reserves.
“Sometimes I’m afraid that al-Qaeda will get me. Other times I fear that the Americans or French or British will fire missiles from the sea to destroy all I control.” Arifi told the Times. He claims that al-Qaeda had most recently offered 1 million dollars for some of the weapons, an offer which Arifi says he turned down. “I told them…this belonged to my government.”
Rows of the mortars and rockets stacked in crates, however, suggest some of the weapons have been shipped to Syria, along with hundreds of Libyans who have joined the rebel forces fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
No actions were taken to remove the uranium, which after intensive processing could become weapons grade, despite the U.N. mission in Libya suggesting its removal. Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammad Abdul Aziz echoed similar sentiments but with no avail.
The most pressing matter to Western officials, however, is the surface-to-air missile getting into the hands of al-Qaeda, an unchecked power in the region enjoying its new freedom in a post-Qaddafi Libya.
“Al-Qaeda was terrified of Qaddafi,” says Colonel Faraj Adem, a senior army officer. “None would dare try to enter Libya’s borders. But now Qaddafi has gone, and with him our border security, al-Qaeda is free to come and go as they please. They are choosing this area to rebuild their weapon stocks and become strong once more. There is no control of weapons stocks here. You want to buy a MANPADS? It’s easy.”
The weapon cache sits in an unguarded complex. Checkpoints between Sabha and northern cities are scarce and poorly manned by informal groups of youth.
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