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Tue 15 Nov 2011 08:26 AM

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Libya’s looted missiles ‘still in the country’

Bulk of Gaddafi’s stock of 20,000 missiles missing, fears al-Qaeda could be recipients

Libya’s looted missiles ‘still in the country’
In the push to overthrow Gaddafi, local militias raided local arms depots

Most of Libya's missing stocks of shoulder-fired
anti-aircraft missiles are still in the country but they need to be secured
before they are smuggled to militants outside Libya, a US official said.

Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had about 20,000 of the
missiles. Many of them were looted during the conflict that ended his rule,
prompting concern that they could end up in the hands of al-Qaeda's north
African branch.

The weapons, often referred to as MANPADS or 'man portable
air defence systems', are favoured by militant groups because they are light
and portable, relatively simple to use and can in theory bring down a civilian
airliner.

Derrin Smith, an adviser to the US government's inter-agency
task force on MANPADS, said predictions that large numbers of the weapons would
be taken out of Libya to al Qaeda's desert strongholds have not been realised.

"It appears at this point that most of the Libyan
MANPAD stocks continue to be in the hands of Libyan personnel. So we'll work
with the government to recover those into centralised government inventory
control," Smith told a news conference in the Algerian capital.

"The bad news is that no one is certain what the exact
number is that is outside government control and it will take some months of
effort to come up with a reasonable number."

In the chaotic fighting to end Gaddafi's rule, local
militias trying to overthrow him raided arms depots and took the weapons for
themselves.

The militias are largely loyal to the Western-backed
government now in power, but there are questions over how securely they are
storing the weapons.

Security experts have said that MANPADS could be acquired by
militants or smugglers and taken across Libya's porous southern borders into
neighbouring Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Al Qaeda's north African branch, al Qaeda in the Islamic
Maghreb (AQIM) is active in the Sahara desert, which straddles those countries.
An AQIM commander has said his group exploited the Libya conflict to obtain
weapons.

But Smith said shoulder-fired missiles, or their components,
from Libyan stocks had so far not been found among arms shipments intercepted
in the Sahara.

"We have not had much indication of MANPADS yet moving
through the region," he said after talks with Algerian officials.

"There were some components of surface-to-air missiles
that have been interdicted by ... regional countries. They did share the
information with us," he said.

"Expert analysis revealed those components were not
related to the inventory or stocks in Libya. And none of the components that
have been recovered at any of the borders were fully functioning."

He said that US weapons specialists, working with the new
Libyan government, had already catalogued some stocks of shoulder-fired
missiles inside the country.

"The bulk of the inventory are SA-7 older Soviet models
of surface-to-air missiles," said Smith. "Some of the missiles they
have recovered were corroded and non-functional. Many of the others were still
in their steel shipping containers and were fully functioning missiles."

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