Algeria claims AQIM getting Weapons in Libya
By William Tucker
Reuters is reporting, quoting an Algerian security official, that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has used the chaos in Libya to seize weapons and rearm. According to the report, AQIM loaded several vehicles with weapons and moved the convoy through Chad and Niger into northern Mali. Some of the weapons that were taken include, RPG-7 (rocket-propelled grenades), FMPK heavy machine guns, Kalashnikov rifles, explosives and ammunition, and perhaps most bothersome, an unknown quantity of SAM-7 man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS). Reuters did question U.S. officials about the Algerians claims, but they could not confirm the report. Strangely, Reuters didn’t question the French who actually have a better intelligence presence along with a higher numbers of troops in the region.
At this point I haven’t been able to confirm the Algerian claims either and I find the timeline a bit suspect. When the Libyan rebellion began in the eastern portion of the country the local weapons stores were raided and many in the Libyan military deserted their posts. As the loose conglomeration of rebels rapidly pushed westward Qaddafi responded by using his air assets to hit as many weapons stores as he could that fell from Tripoli’s control. These events moved rapidly and it doesn’t seem possible that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb could have responded quickly enough to organize the raids themselves. If AQIM has managed to procure Libyan weapons is was most likely done via an intermediary. AQIM does have a good relationship with arms traffickers in the region and they would have been in a much better position to respond to the rapidly unfolding events in Libya.
Of course, I cannot prove the claimed events either way, but it is curious that the report only cites one source from a country that has an interest in the Libyan outcome. Other than Algeria several countries in the Maghreb are concerned over the war in Libya and have seen Qaddafi’s rule as a bulwark against AQIM and the former LIFG. We do have metrics with which we can gauge AQIM if they have indeed acquired new weapons. AQIM’s attacks against government targets in Algeria have fallen substantially and the group has relied heavily on kidnapping for ransom. If we see an uptick in attacks or attempted attacks against harder targets, or perhaps more sophisticated operations then we’ll have to dissect the events carefully to see if any new weaponry was used. With the increased interest of France in the region we’ll also have to see what turns up in future raids. At this point we are in a wait and see situation.