Libyan Conflict Could Spread Missiles to Extremists
By PIERRE TRAN / Gannett Government Media
Published: 31 Mar 2011 16:37
PARIS – The opening of arms depots by rebel fighters and Libyan government troops has raised concerns that shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles of the SA-7 Strela type could find their way into the hands of terrorists, a French defense official said March 31.
“Dozens of these weapons have simply disappeared. They’re worth a non-negligible amount,” the official said. “They present a real danger.” As fighting has raged back and forth in Sirte and other towns, opposing sides have seized weapons from arms depots, the official said. That has prompted fears the portable missiles could be sold on the black market to the al-Qaida Maghreb or other extremist groups operating in African countries such as Chad, Somalia or Sudan.
That raised the risk of, say, a missile strike against the Atlantique 2 aircraft, flown by the French Air Force for intelligence-gathering in sub-Saharan Africa, the official said.
A Boeing 767 operated by the Israeli Arkia airline came under fire from a brace of Strela SA-7 missiles as the plane took off from Mombasa airport in November 2002, highlighting the threat from these weapons. On that occasion the missiles missed, but a similar portable missile struck the left engine of an Airbus A300 operated by DHL, the express courier company, at Baghdad airport in November 2003. The pilot landed the plane safely despite the engine fire.