What keeps Western security officials up at night? The list is long, but loose weaponry from Libyan strongman Col. Qaddafi’s vast arsenal is fast becoming an acute concern. Foreign Policy magazine’s Mideast Channel explains:
During his 42 years in power, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi’s unpredictable behaviour has become the stuff of legend. But on one issue Qaddafi was remarkably consistent: He was unrelentingly obsessed with purchasing a massive arsenal of weapons from whoever was offering them. As a result, much of Libya resembles one vast arms bazaar — a museum of curiosities for arms inspectors, and a gallery of horror for those concerned about the safety of civilians. With the collapse of Qaddafi’s control in eastern Libya, vast amounts of weapons and munitions are now up for grabs, often to whoever gets there first.
Qaddafi’s weapon stocks far exceeded what we saw in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein; some of the weapons, such as the surface-to-air missiles capable of downing a civilian aircraft, now floating around freely in eastern Libya are giving security officials around the world sleepless nights. After I began circulating some of the pictures I had taken, I began getting anxious calls from arms-control officials, asking for more details about what I had seen. There is good cause for U.S. and European officials to worry — there are rocket-propelled grenades, surface-to-air missiles, and artillery shells full of explosives that can easily be refashioned into car bombs. And there are plenty of groups in the region, including al Qaeda affiliates and rebel movements, that would love to get their hands on these weapons.
Among the weapons of greatest concern to Western security officials is the SA-7 “Grail” surface-to-air missile, a Soviet-designed, heat-seeking, shoulder-launched missile designed specifically to shoot down low-flying planes. The SA-7 — basically a long green tube with the missile inside — belongs to a family of weapons known as man-portable air-defence systems, or MANPADS. Although these weapons date back to the 1960s, they remain extremely deadly, especially against civilian planes without defence systems. Two SA-7 missiles were fired by al Qaeda operatives at an Israeli chartered Boeing 757 during a November 2002 attack in Mombasa, Kenya, narrowly missing the plane. During the past month and a half, we have seen literally hundreds of SA-7s floating around freely in eastern Libya.
You can read the full report here.