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.
“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 slightest difficulty, will probably give them the task of bringing the weapons,” said the official.
The official claimed 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 though last week US talked about “flickers” of an al Qaeda presence in Libya.