Al-Qaeda’s north African branch has acquired a stockpile of weapons in Libya, including surface-to-air missiles that are threatening air travel, the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator said Monday.
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During an anniversary conference in honor of the 9/11 terrorism attacks on the U.S., Gilles de Kerchove, EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, said that al Qaeda members of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have “gained access to weapons, either small arms or machine-guns, or certain surface-to-air missiles which are extremely dangerous because they pose a risk to flights over the territory.”
The Islamic Maghreb, AQIM, originated as an armed Islamist resistance movement to the secular Algerian government. It now operates mainly in Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, where it has attacked military targets and taken civilian hostages, particularly Europeans, some of whom it has killed.
Confirming the seizure of weapons is Chad’s President, Idriss Deby Itno, who told the African weekly Jeune Afrique in an interview that he was “100 per cent sure” of his assertion.
“The Islamists of al-Qaeda took advantage of the pillaging of arsenals in the rebel zone to acquire arms, including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries in Tenere,” a desert region of the Sahara that stretches from northeast Niger to western Chad, Deby said in the interview.
“This is very serious. AQIM is becoming a genuine army, the best equipped in the region,” he said.
His claim was echoed by officials in other countries in the region who said that they were worried that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) might have acquired “heavy weapons”, thanks to the insurrection.
“We have sure information. We are very worried for the sub-region,” a Malian security source who did not want to be named said.
A military source from Niger confirmed the information. “We have the same information,” about heavy weapons, including SAM 7 missiles, a military source from Niger said. “It is very worrying. This overarming is a real danger for the whole zone,” he said.
Deby also confirmed that al Qaeda took part in the uprising in Libya. He said, “Up to what point? I don’t know. But I am certain that AQIM took an active part in the uprising.” Read here: Yahoo News