Author Topic: Weapons trafficking:Smuggled Libyan weapons flood into Egypt  (Read 2411 times)

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S3* - EGYPT/LIBYA/PNA/CT/MIL - Smuggled Libyan weapons flood into Egypt

Released on 2013-03-04 00:00 GMT
Email-ID    2874508
Date    2011-10-13 14:22:46
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Smuggled Libyan weapons flood into Egypt

By Leila Fadel, Thursday, October 13, 3:10 AM

EL ARISH, Egypt - Large caches of weapons from Libya are making their way
across the Egyptian border and flooding black markets in Egypt's already
unstable Sinai Peninsula, according to current and former Egyptian
military officials and arms traders in the Sinai.
Egyptian security officials have intercepted surface-to-air missiles, most
of them shoulder-launched, on the road to Sinai and in the smuggling
tunnels connecting Egypt to the Gaza Strip since Moammar Gaddafi fell from
power in Libya in August, a military official in Cairo said. Arms traders
said the weapons available on Sinai's clandestine market include rockets
and antiaircraft guns.
The seizures raise fresh concerns about security along the sensitive area
that borders the Gaza Strip and Israel, at a time when unrest is roiling
the region. The addition of shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles to
arsenals of Palestinian fighters in Gaza could add significantly to the
threat against Israel, whose helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft
frequently patrol the strip, which is controlled by the militant Islamist
group Hamas.
"We don't want to see Egypt as a pathway to smuggle weapons," said Sameh
Seif el-Yazal, a retired Egyptian general in military intelligence who
said several surface-to-air missiles have been intercepted on the desert
road from Libya to the Egyptian city of Alexandria and north on to Gaza.
"We believe some Palestinian groups made a deal with Libyans to get
special weapons such as shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles."

Concerns about security in the Sinai have been growing in Egypt and among
Israeli and American officials, who have called on Egypt to do more to
protect the sensitive area, which borders the Gaza Strip and Israel. In
the months since Egypt's January-February revolution, the pipeline that
feeds natural gas to Israel has been attacked seven times by militants. A
cross-border attack by assailants in August killed eight Israeli civilians
and prompted an Israeli counterstrike that killed six Egyptian troops,
including three who later died of their wounds

Palestinian militants in Gaza command a potent arsenal that includes
surface-to-surface missiles capable of striking deep inside Israel. But
they are not known to have employed more than rudimentary antiaircraft

Resistance by Bedouins

The vastness of the Sinai, with its deserts and mountains, poses a major
challenge to efforts by Egyptian authorities to maintain security there.
In recent months, Egypt has sent reinforcements, bringing the number of
troops on the peninsula to 20,000, but it has struggled to gain control in
an area governed by tribal customs and populated primarily by Bedouins,
who distrust the government and call the shots.

A security official and an Egyptian brigadier general who served recently
in the Sinai said the seizures have included ammunition, explosives,
automatic weapons and caches of heavier arms, including Russian-made
Strela-2 and Strela-3 heat-seeking, shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles.

"We've intercepted more advanced weapons, and these weapons aren't
familiar to the Egyptian weapons markets; these are war weapons," said the
brigadier general, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials are concerned that some of Libya's vast trove of
shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles could end up in the hands of
terrorists, who could use them against civilian jets. Gaddafi's government
had up to 20,000 of the missiles, according to U.S. estimates, and
American authorities are working with Libya's provisional government to
track down what happened to them. Although thousands were thought to be
destroyed in NATO bombing raids during the conflict this year, many
missiles apparently were looted from unguarded warehouses in the chaos of
the Libyan uprising.

The 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel imposes strict limits on
Egypt's military presence in the Sinai, but Israel has signaled an
openness to further troop increases there because of concerns about
cross-border attacks and smuggling. Many Bedouins rely on smuggling as
their main source of livelihood, delivering food, cement and other
commodities to Gaza - which is under an Israeli blockade - for cash, even
as Egyptian authorities have taken new steps to cut off the tunnels that
lead into the zone.

The governor of northern Sinai, Maj. Gen. Abdel Wahab Mabrouk, could not
be reached for comment, and the head of security in the peninsula, Maj.
Gen. Saleh el-Masry, said he could not speak without special permission.

Here in northern Sinai, Bedouin tribes have long felt marginalized and
neglected by the government. They point to the dozens of schools in their
area with no teachers, the hospitals with no doctors and the lack of
government protection as examples of the past regime's neglect. They were
also targeted and abused by police after attacks by religious extremists
on tourist resorts in the Sinai in 2004 and 2005.

"There is a real kind of bitterness with the police," said Yazal, the
retired general. "North Sinai was completely ignored by the past regime
for decades. They feel like second-class citizens."

This feeling of vulnerability has created a strong motivation among
Bedouins to take their security into their own hands by buying more
weapons, which many fear will further destabilize the tense region.

Fears about safety, Islamists

Just a few miles from the Gaza border in Rafah, a Bedouin arms dealer
known as Abu Ahmed said that weapons smuggling has been easy since Egypt's
18-day uprising and that the Libyan unrest next door has created a
virtually open border. Antiaircraft 14.5mm machine guns are readily
available, he said. Shoulder-fired Stinger-like antiaircraft missiles also
are available, he said, and their price has dropped from $10,000 to $4,000
because there are so many in the market.

Abu Ahmed estimates that the number of armed people in the Sinai has
doubled in recent months, noting that the Bedouin tribes are stockpiling
weapons in case the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak does not
succeed and the police try to target them again.

"Tribal leaders buy in bulk for the tribe and then sell what they don't
need," he said.

Although there is no well-
defined armed Islamist movement in the peninsula, fliers have been
distributed in the name of al-Qaeda in the Sinai calling for an Islamic
emirate. In July, armed men carrying the black flags of holy war drove
through the streets and attacked a police station in El Arish. A militant
Islamist group known as Takfir wal-Hijra has a fledgling presence in the

Egyptian officials have asked Sinai residents to register their weapons,
but those requests are derided in a region where the authorities are

"If everything was safe and secure, I would register my weapons," said
Waleed, a Bedouin in his 20s who insisted he be identified only by his
first name. He said he had bought an antiaircraft gun for $15,000, partly
for security and partly because it looked cool, then mounted it on his
Land Cruiser. "But, right now, we don't know. My home, my business and the
women of our family are everything to us, and we have to secure

Staff writer Mary Beth Sheridan in Washington and special correspondents
Ingy Hassieb and Ahmed Abu Deraa contributed to this report.