Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Asharq al-Awsat has obtained the first photographs of a Libyan chemical weapons factory and warehouse belonging to the army of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, located in the region of al-Jufra, less than 200 km to the south of Sirte.
Sources from al-Jufra region said that al-Sadd battalion, which is affiliated to the revolutionaries, was previously guarding the area encompassing the chemical weapons factory and warehouse. However, the battalion has since withdrawn from the region, leaving a stockpile of deadly weapons vulnerable to theft.
The sources added that al-Sadd battalion has returned to Misratah in the north, and that the current number of guards deployed at the chemical weapons site, which contains some 9 tons of mustard gas and dozens of barrels contaminated with chemicals, is just two men armed with Kalashnikov rifles and an urban vehicle.
Hamzah al-Shaibani, spokesman for the “17 February revolution committee” in the town of Waddan, al-Jufra, said in a telephone interview with Asharq al-Awsat yesterday that: “We appeal to the United Nations and the Transitional National Council to protect and secure the area, because it represents a grave danger.”
Al-Shaibani said that a pungent stench has engulfed the area surrounding the chemical weapons store, “as a result of a slight leak inside the warehouse which we are afraid might become worse.” Al-Shaibani revealed that al-Sadd Battalion previously did not permit anyone to approach the chemical warehouse without wearing a “protective mask”, fearing that the emanating fumes could cause potential harm.
Other sources indicated that since the withdrawal of al-Sadd battalion from al-Jufra, only one battalion remains; the al-Jufra Brigade. This battalion was established by Ali Zaydan, an official in the ruling Transitional National Council. A group of young al-Jufra residents – roughly 300 youths – have joined the battalion, but it has no real equipment or resources. Currently, the battalion is using a Libyan military airport as its base, located some 17 km away from the chemical weapons site.
The sources added that the warehouse containing chemical weapons and mustard gas is located in an open area of al-Ruwadah Valley, and is currently unsecured. The sources declared that “anyone can access these weapons, and take whatever they want. Anyone who says that he is a revolutionary is granted a permit to enter the area unaccompanied, and he can take whatever weapons he wants without supervision, and without recording what kind of weapons he takes, including chemical substances.”
The sources said that al-Jufra Brigade brought in experts from the United Nations shortly after the revolutionaries took control of the region. The sources point out that the experts discovered the existence of a leak in the chemical weapons warehouse, and decided to send a full team in the near future. However, to date, this team has not arrived.
According to the sources, the gate at the entrance to the chemical weapons site does not represent any obstacle for someone wishing to obtain these weapons, because they are accessible from any other direction within Al-Ruwadah Valley.
The only roadblock leading up to the chemical weapons store is a sand barrier recently constructed by three UN experts. However, al-Shaibani claimed that this barrier was easily surmountable. It is also possible to reach the weapons store from the rear of the valley without any obstacle. Leading up to the site, a sign simply reads: “No Entry… Mustard Gas and Chemicals.”
The sources said: “Here is a [potential] disaster, because there is no barbed wire or fences to protect these hazardous substances, which could be taken by any party. Anyone can enter and tamper with these chemicals, and take whatever they want.”
In a manner similar to the chemical weapons store, all al-Jufra warehouses holding conventional weapons, missiles, and shells are open and unlocked. The residents of the region are afraid that any explosion in the conventional weapons warehouses might affect the neighbouring chemical weapons depot and factory. The sources said: “There are fragments of missiles and mortar shells near the chemical weapons depot, as a result of NATO’s aerial bombardment of the region.”