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U.S. Fears Terrorists Could Acquire Looted Weapons

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U.S. Fears Terrorists Could Acquire Looted Weapons

U.S. Fears Terrorists Could Acquire Looted Weapons

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Let's go next to Libya, where people have been celebrating, but are also concerned about the vast arsenals of weapons that have flooded onto the streets since Moammar Gadhafi lost power. Entire warehouses of surface-to-air missiles, mortars and anti-tank mines have been looted. U.S. military officials say they're worried that these weapons could flow out of Libya and into the hands of terrorists. And there is also concern that they could be used to arm an insurgency inside the country. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Tripoli.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Soon after the rebels overran the headquarters of Gadhafi's much feared Khamis Brigade on the south side of Tripoli, rebels and ordinary citizens scavenged through a bombed-out warehouse on the base. Green wooden crates of mortar shells are stacked more than 10 feet high. There are boxes full of .50 caliber anti-aircraft rounds. Other coffin-size crates lie ripped open and empty except for some shredded packing material.

Again, this stuff is all from Moscow.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

And these guys are shooting off live celebratory gunfire right next to these crates that clearly say explosive on them. And inside the crates are massive artillery shells. Some of them have been opened. Some of them haven't.

Mr. FRED ABRAHAMS (Special Advisor, Human Rights Watch): The unsecured weapons in this country are an extreme problem.

BEAUBIEN: Fred Abrahams with Human Rights Watch has been looking into the issue of uncontrolled weapons stockpiles in Libya since the beginning of the uprising in February.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Moammar Gadhafi had a vast arsenal. And these days many of the warehouses, many of the bunkers have been looted.

BEAUBIEN: The rebels used the liberated weapons stockpiles of Gadhafi to arm themselves as they advanced on the capital, but ordinary citizens have also been free to take what ever they want.

U.S. military officials in the region have expressed concern that surface-to-air missiles and other sophisticated weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists.

Containing these munitions has been complicated by the fact that after the NATO bombing campaign started in March, the Gadhafi regime moved many of them out of military bases. Weapons were being stored in residential neighborhoods, in office buildings and factories. Abrahams concedes that this has made finding them more difficult, but he still says the rebel's transitional government hasn't made weapons containment high enough priority.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: In Libya's east, we saw the vast arsenals that were left unguarded when the government fell. So we knew that they were in the west. We knew they were in Tripoli. We knew that they were in other cities of western Libya. And we're finding them. Up to two weeks after Tripoli fell, we're still finding places with large, large amounts of weapons. Yesterday, we found a place with over 100,000 landmines.

BEAUBIEN: Officials with the rebel's transitional government say they are trying to deal with the problem. But they say this is just one more of the problematic legacies left behind by Gadhafi.

(Soundbite of horn honking)

There is an effort underway to register all the Kalashnikov assault rifles that have recently ended up on the streets. At rebel checkpoints throughout Tripoli every young man holds an AK-47. At a roadblock in the Souk al-Joumah neighborhood, Hisham Kalif explains that everyone's new ID card also contains the serial number of their gun.

Mr. HISHAM KALIF: Each ID card like this one, you can have a look. You come here a moment. He's got a Kalashnikov there. OK? It should got a number there. So when they call him, like this is the number of his Kalashnikov, when the time comes, government say, we need to collect all Kalashnikov's, so we handle them.

BEAUBIEN: The new interior minister says that eventually all armed fighters will be required to either hand in their guns or join a unified national army. Abrahams at Human Rights Watch says the rebels have responded quickly to securing munitions warehouses once they've been found. But he says this is often too late.

Mr. ABRAHAMS: Placing a guard at an empty facility where we find only the boxes of surface-to-air missiles doesn't do much at this point. And unfortunately the damage is done.

BEAUBIEN: If Gadhafi or some other leader does launch an insurgency in Libya, Abrahams warns that these weapons could be used to destabilize the new country.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Tripoli.

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