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Thursday
Sep082011

Looters Steal Gadhafi's Weapons, Including Surface-to-Air Missiles

Scott Peterson/Getty Images(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- It seems everyone in Libya has a gun these days.

Defeated in battle, Moammar Gadhafi's army left behind armories brimming with weapons, and the rebels have helped themselves. It's not just guns that have been plundered. Almost every outpost captured by opposition forces has yielded weapons -- everything from AK-47 assault rifles to grenades to surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). And the rebels tell ABC News that they don't have enough resources to safeguard them all -- which means they may wind up in the hands of people who have other agendas than defeating Gadhafi.

According to Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, the weapons the looters want most, and take first, are the SAMs.

HRW estimates there are 20,000 surface-to-air missiles in Libya, and many of those are now missing. Some are recent Russian-made SAMs, capable of shooting down aircraft flying as high as 11,000 feet.

"They have no military use in this war," said Bouckaert. "Gadhafi is not flying any airplanes, he's not flying any helicopters. So why are people looting these very powerful and dangerous missiles?"

Bouckaert suggested that some of the looters might have other targets in mind. "They can be used to shoot down a civilian plane. That's what al Qaeda tried to do in Mombasa a few years ago."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged the Libyan rebels to protect Gadhafi's weapons stockpiles "to ensure that weapons from Qaddafi's stockpiles do not threaten Libya's neighbors and the world." It may be too late. Bouckaert of HRW warns that they are now "in the hands of unknown people."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio