According to CNN, a stash of Russian-made missiles has gone missing from a weapons warehouse in Tripoli, Libya.
A CNN team and Human Rights Watch found dozens of empty crates marked with packing lists and inventory numbers that identified the items as Igla-S surface-to-air missiles.
The list for one box, for example, written in English and Russian, said it had contained two missiles, with inventory number “Missile 9M342,” and a power source, inventory number “Article 9B238.”
Grinch SA-24s are designed to target front-line aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles and drones. They can shoot down a plane flying as high as 11,000 feet and can travel 19,000 feet straight out.
Oh, and it’s not just in Tripoli — tens of thousands of missiles have been swiped:
Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch emergencies director, told CNN he has seen the same pattern in armories looted elsewhere in Libya, noting that “in every city we arrive, the first thing to disappear are the surface-to-air missiles.”
He said such missiles can fetch many thousands of dollars on the black market.
“We are talking about some 20,000 surface-to-air missiles in all of Libya, and I’ve seen cars packed with them.” he said. “They could turn all of North Africa into a no-fly zone.”
So, other than being used to shoot down U.S. and allied aircraft once stolen, what’s happening to these weapons?
Western officials worry that weapons from the storage sites will end up in the hands of militants or adversaries like Iran.
The governments of neighboring Niger and Chad have both said that weapons from Libya are already being smuggled into their countries, and they are destined for al Qaeda. They include detonators and a plastic explosive called Semtex. Chad’s president said they include SA-7 missiles.
An ethnic Tuareg leader in the northern Niger city of Agadez also said many weapons have come across the border. He said he and other Tuareg leaders are anxious about Gadhafi’s Tuareg fighters returning home – with their weapons – and making common cause with al Qaeda cells in the region. Gadhafi’s fighting forces have included mercenaries from other African nations.
The missing weapons also conjure fears of what happened in Iraq, where people grabbed scores of weapons when Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown.
Bouckaert said one or two of the missing artillery rounds are “enough to make a car bomb.”
“We should remember what happened in Iraq,” he said, when the “country was turned upside down” by insurgents using such weaponry.
So, the Libya mess belongs to whom?