Jose Miguel Calatayud Nairobi 21 MAR 2012 – 20:51 CET
Five months after the end of the civil war in Libya, the conflict continues to have consequences in other parts of Africa. Weapons from the arsenals of the former leader of Libya Muammar Gaddafi have been already used in parts of the Sahel and could have even gone to Somalia. Of particular concern are the thousands of portable launchers that may have come from Libya and into the wrong hands could be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.
“Clearly there has been a significant proliferation of weapons due to conflict in Libya and there are credible reports from Algeria, Niger and Mali,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa program of the Chatham House . “This has impacted particularly the Sahel, where the availability of weapons was already a problem.”
“In addition, the Algerian government says that in 2011 arrested 214 smugglers of weapons, 87 of them Libyans, although little is known about these people,” adds Andrew Lebovich, an analyst specializing in northern and western Africa Navanti Group.
The most direct influence of the Libyan conflict is the Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali, reinforced by the arrival of former combatants and their weapons pro Gaddafi. The fighting has displaced more than 100,000 people and caused dozens of deaths, according to United Nations. But perhaps the biggest risk is that terrorist groups are those that are made with Libyan weapons, especially with the portable missile SA-24 and SA-7, made in Russia and Libya had about 20,000 units Known as MANPADS by its acronym in English (man-portable air-defense system), these launchers are about five feet, weighing between 10 and 15 kilograms and are relatively easy to use. Once launched, the missiles are guided by the heat and, while military aircraft and helicopters are usually equipped with defenses against such weapons could be used to shoot down commercial aircraft during landing or takeoff phases.
In February, the Algerian authorities found a cache of at least 43 of these MANPADS, other weapons and large amounts of ammunition. The sales process, as described by the local press, like something out of a James Bond.
Traffickers fat cover arms and wrapped in plastic sheeting to protect them from the sand. Then the buried several meters deep in the desert and keep the exact GPS coordinates, in this case in the eastern Amenas, about 40 kilometers from the border with Libya. Following the sale, the traffickers give buyers the coordinates and they only have to go and dig up your product.
In the black market, prices of MANPADS can vary greatly between 5,000 and $ 50,000 per unit, depending on model, the state of the launchers and the money that prospective buyers are willing to invest, according to experts consulted by The Country . They point to a diversity of potential traffickers, which include both pro Gaddafi forces as exrebeldes and other groups or individuals, but agree that it is mainly smuggling networks established in the region prior to the Libyan conflict.
“Although I suspect there are now specialized in arms traffickers, probably in connection with networks already present before the fall of Gaddafi,” said Lebovich. “For example, relatives of Abou Zeid, commander of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) , take some time making smuggling between Libya and Algeria, and the same goes for other family or tribal groups. “
Although the stakeholders, experts say it would be mainly a purely economic activity. “This arms trafficking does not respond to an ideology, it is organized crime in this area interacts with radical Islamic groups,” said Vines.
Customers of this particular network of buying and selling of weapons, ammunition and other contraband are also diverse. By geographical proximity, analysts say AQIM, the Islamist sect Boko Haram in Nigeria and Mali Tuareg rebels themselves would be the main stakeholders. “And besides these, there are also rebel groups in Chad and Sudan that could benefit from these weapons,” said Lebovich. Terrorist groups ‘MANPADS’
The greatest danger could be that a terrorist group will make enough MANPADS s was able to use against commercial aircraft although, unlike in the movies, analysts say it is not so easy. The launchers are degraded over time and the dealers could be selling defective MANPADS s. Further, to be effective must be fired near the target and at a right angle, since the projectile may be followed by mistake a different heat source to the target. In any case, one would be enough time when everything was working for a terrorist group could make an attack with a high number of victims.
Dozens of these launchers could have gone as far as Somalia and in the hands of the Islamist al-Shabab militia, according to some reports and rumors always based on anonymous sources. “It may be true but I am very skeptical, this seems an attempt to exaggerate the danger of al-Shabab, which poses a serious threat in itself,” said Rashid Abdi, an independent analyst on Somalia, exinvestigador the International Crisis Group and ex-soldier in Kenya.
Other experts also give little credence to these reports also noted that would not involve too many differences with the current situation. “On Somalia, and even if they have SA-7 launchers come from Libya, Al Shabab have these MANPADS and more advanced successor, the SA-18, for years,” said Matt Schroeder, project manager for the monitoring of the sale of arms of the Federation of American Scientists.
All sources agree that the responsibility for curbing the illicit traffic of arms in the Sahel is the responsibility of the states involved, and the new Libyan government to stop the flow of arms of his country. But it also points to the difficulty of establishing better controls in practice. “Overall, although increasing border patrols, detect only some of the weapons trafficked in a very long border region known for its porosity and in which traffickers can pay a lot better than the governments themselves to the police pay borders and immigration, “concludes Andrew Lebovich of Navanti Group.