Tuesday, 22 January 2013
From The Wall Street Journal:
January 22, 2013
Arms From Libya Used in Algeria Raid
Weapons looted from Libya were among the arms that Islamist terrorists used in their attack at an Algerian gas facility, according to Algerian officials and weapons experts examining evidence in the aftermath of the hostage crisis.
The four-day siege at the remote natural-gas complex in Algeria's southern desert showed how resurgent al Qaeda-linked militants can use limited amounts of conventional arms to wreak havoc across North Africa
Algerian officials said that some of the assault rifles and hand-held rocket launchers used in the assault likely came from Libyan weapons caches amassed by Moammar Gadhafi before his fall. Those stockpiles were looted by Libyan militias and arms traffickers in the chaos that followed his overthrow in 2011.
The officials, speaking to Algerian media, didn't provide specifics as to their deductions. However, two weapons experts with knowledge of the Gadhafi-era arsenals said that assault rifles shown on Algerian state television as belonging to the militant cell were likely the same variation of Kalashnikov assault rifle used by Gadhafi's special forces.
Belgian-made antitank land mines recovered from the militants by the Algerian forces appear to match the same model of mine found in Gadhafi's military stockpiles, according to these experts, who studied the displays of weaponry assembled by Algerian forces and broadcast on Algerian TV on Monday.
The antitank mines aren't common in the arsenals of any other North African government, the experts said.
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said on Monday that the militants used C5 missile launchers to attack the oil facility, which is near the Libyan border. Such C5s were used by Libyan rebels, who mounted them on the backs of pickup trucks, according to French and Algerian military experts.
While Libya has managed to transform itself into a faltering democracy in the wake of its revolution, it has also become an "ammunition supermarket" feeding the al Qaeda-linked militants who reside in the lawless North African deserts linking Libya, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Mali, according to Max Dyck, the head of the United Nations Mine Action Program in Libya.
Algerian officials have long complained that the hundreds of miles of largely unguarded border with Libya have been rife with arms traffickers and criminal smugglers since the fall of Gadhafi.
The new Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan declared the border a closed military zone in December 2012, in efforts to stanch the flow of weapons. This month he met with his Algerian counterpart to work on a strategy of stepped-up border surveillance.
A senior Obama administration official called the outflow of fighters and weapons from Libya the game changer that empowered rebels in Mali and "tipped the balance" there. Officials said the U.S. could do little to stop the passage of arms and fighters crisscrossing porous borders en route to Mali's north.
Algerian officials blamed the attack there on Mali-based terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar and his militia, al Mouthalimin, or Those Who Sign with Blood, the group that claimed responsibility for the attack.
The group is an affiliate of al Qaeda in the Maghreb, which is now fighting French and African forces in Mali. Mr. Belmokhtar and AQIM have filled their arsenals with weapons pillaged from Libya, residents of the region and State Department officials said.
By November 2011, members of AQIM were boasting to African journalists that weapons from Libya would give them an advantage in their insurgencies. "It's totally natural we benefited from Libyan arms in such conditions," Mr. Belmokhtar told a Mauritanian newspaper in 2011.
Posted on 01/22/2013 8:06 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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