Libya militias capture chemical weapons: army official

Remains of Muammar Gaddafi's chemical weapons arsenal in the desert. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Remains of Muammar Gaddafi’s chemical weapons arsenal in the desert. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Jufra District, Libya, Asharq Al-Awsat—Militias in Libya have seized chemical weapons from arsenals located in the southern and central provinces of the country that used to belong to former leader Muammar Gaddafi, military sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

A Libyan military official who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity said: “Unfortunately [chemical weapons] exist in locations known to the militias, who have seized large amounts of them to use in their war against the [Libyan] army.”

The military official warned that the caches, which contain deadly chemicals such as mustard gas and the nerve agent Sarin, may fall into the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The quantity of chemical weapons taken is not known.

Jihadist groups have exploited the chaos in Libya that followed the toppling of Gaddafi in 2011, as rival factions compete for power and oil.

ISIS secured a foothold in Libya after at least three local Islamist militias swore allegiance to the ultra-radical group.

The group has claimed responsibility for several attacks in the country, including the deadly bombing of a Tripoli luxury hotel, the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts, and most recently the twin suicide bombings in the eastern city of Qubba.

An armed group guarding a chemical factory located in Jufra District, 370 miles (600 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli, has transferred unknown quantities of the deadly mustard gas to the Mediterranean city of Misrata, locals told Asharq Al-Awsat.

According to witnesses, cone-shaped tanks were used to transfer the chemicals.

A video recording, obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat, purportedly shows militants conducting chemical weapons tests in a mountainous area near the town of Mizda, 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Tripoli.

In the footage, a militant is shown firing a projectile, producing flames followed by a cloud of dense white smoke that covers a wide area.

“Before his death, Gaddafi left approximately one thousand cubic tons worth of material used for manufacturing chemical weapons and about 20,000 cubic tons of mustard gas,” the military source said.

The destruction of some of Libya’s chemical weapons arsenal began after the country joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2004. Due to the uprising against Gaddafi’s rule in 2011, the source maintained, only 60 percent of the chemical stockpiles have been destroyed.