Concerns grow about looting of Libyan weapons

Wed Aug 24, 2011 8:01pm GMT

* Surface-to-air missiles could be stolen or resold

* U.S. "held back" on weapons supplies to rebel forces

* Experts less worried about nuclear, chemical stockpiles

By Mark Hosenball and Andrew Quinn

WASHINGTON, Aug 24 (Reuters) - The U.S. and NATO are deeply concerned about possible looting and resale of conventional weapons, particularly shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, from Libyan arsenals as Muammar Gaddafi's rule crumbles.

Some Western officials say there is scattered intelligence indicating that weapons stolen from Gaddafi's stockpiles may have made their way to insurgents or militants in nearby countries, such as Niger, and North African nations.

The officials said they were much more worried about leakage of conventional weapons from Libyan arsenals than they were about possible theft or misuse of Libya's residual supplies of radioactive materials and chemical agents.

Of particular concern is the possibility that some of Gaddafi's surface-to-air missiles, also known as MANPADs (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems), which could be used to attack airliners, might fall into the hands of militants.

"They are very dangerous, unstable weapons, and if they fall into the wrong hands, they can be extremely disruptive, as we've seen around the world," Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, said on Wednesday.   Continued...

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