Al Qaeda acquiring weapons in Libya: Algerian official

ALGIERS, (Reuters) – Al Qaeda is exploiting the  conflict in Libya to acquire weapons, including surface-to-air  missiles, and smuggle them to a stronghold in northern Mali, a  security official from neighbouring Algeria told Reuters.
The official said a convoy of eight Toyota pick-up trucks  left eastern Libya, crossed into Chad and then Niger, and from  there into northern Mali where in the past few days it delivered  a cargo of weapons.
He said the weapons included Russian-made RPG-7 anti-tank  rocket-propelled grenades, Kalashnikov heavy machine guns,  Kalashnikov rifles, explosives and ammunition.
He also said he had information that al Qaeda’s north  African wing, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM),  had acquired from Libya Russian-made shoulder-fired Strela  surface-to-air missiles known by the NATO designation SAM-7.
“A convoy of eight Toyotas full of weapons travelled a few  days ago through Chad and Niger and reached northern Mali,” said  the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The weapons included RPG-7s, FMPK (Kalashnikov heavy  machine guns), Kalashnikovs, explosives and ammunition … and  we know that this is not the first convoy and that it is still  ongoing,” the official told Reuters.
“Several military barracks have been pillaged in this region  (eastern Libya) with their arsenals and weapons stores and the  elements of AQIM who were present could not have failed to  profit from this opportunity.”
“AQIM, which has maintained excellent relations with  smugglers who used to cross Libya from all directions without  the slightest difficulty, will probably give them the task of  bringing it the weapons,” said the official.
The official said that al Qaeda was exploiting disarray  among forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and had  also infiltrated the anti-Gaddafi rebels in eastern Libya.
The rebels deny any ties to al Qaeda. U.S. Admiral James  Stavridis, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, said last  week intelligence showed only “flickers” of an al Qaeda presence  in Libya, with no significant role in the Libyan uprising.
“AQIM … is taking advantage by acquiring the most  sophisticated weapons such as SAM-7s (surface-to-air missiles),  which are equivalent to Stingers,” he said, referring to a  missile system used by the U.S. military.
Algeria has been fighting a nearly two-decade insurgency by  Islamist militants who in the past few years have been operating  under the banner of al Qaeda. Algeria’s security forces also  monitor al Qaeda’s activities outside its borders.
The security official said the Western coalition which has  intervened in Libya had to confront the possibility that if  Gaddafi’s regime falls, al Qaeda could exploit the resulting  chaos to extend its influence to the Mediterranean coast.

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