The UN Security Council has been warned that the weapons of mass destruction stashed away in Libya over the years by Muammar Qaddafi's regime could fall into the hands of terrorists unless immediate steps are taken to secure weapons stockpiles.
Lynn Pascoe, the UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, issued the warning on September 26 at UN headquarters in New York during a meeting with the UN Security Council that included officials from Libya's new interim government, the National Transitional Council.
"It is imperative that the [National Transitional Council] and the international community establish control over the large stocks of sophisticated arms, including ground-to-air missiles amassed by the Qaddafi government," Pascoe said. "The spread of these weapons and the dangers that they could fall into the hands of terrorists are matters of grave concern. Re-establishing control over chemical weapons material is also of major importance."
Qaddafi's regime produced chemical weapons starting in the 1980s and is known to have used them in combat against Chadian troops in 1987. Libya also constructed what was thought to be the world's largest chemical weapons plant at the Rabta industrial complex.
The Rabta complex produced mustard gas and sarin during the late 1980s and the 1990s until UN sanctions are thought to have forced the facility to become inactive.
In order to get UN sanctions lifted and normalize relations with foreign governments, Qaddafi declared his chemical weapons program completely abandoned in late 2003, along with other Libyan programs to produce weapons of mass destruction. In 2004, Libya also destroyed 3,200 chemical weapon artillery shells under the supervision of international observers.
But after those chemical weapons were destroyed, Qaddafi's regime declared that it still had a stockpile of 23 tons of mustard gas, as well as the materials needed to produce sarin and other chemical weapons.
International observers verified that about 15 tons of Qaddafi's chemical agents were destroyed in 2010 under the terms of the international Chemical Weapons Convention signed by Libya.
But leaked classified cables from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli detail how Qaddafi's government was thought to have kept another 9.5 tons of mustard gas hidden away in secret desert stockpiles along with an unknown quantity of phosgene gas and Sarin nerve agent.
Indeed, one massive stockpile of chemical agents was discovered during the past week in the desert near the Al-Jufra air base in central Libya, an area that is no longer under the control of Qaddafi's troops.
Human Rights Watch investigators also recently documented at least two ammunition storage facilities near Misurata and Ajdabiyah that contained an enormous array of weapons, including artillery shells and missiles capable of delivering chemical weapons.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague also warned last month that desperate members of Qaddafi's regime could try to unleash Libya's stocks of chemical weapons as a final desperate act in its "death throes."
The Pentagon also has said that U.S. military forces are monitoring Qaddafi's suspected chemical weapons sites.
Libya's interim Prime Minister Mahmud Jibril told the UN Security Council on September 26 that the collapse of Qaddafi's regime has not eliminated him as a threat to the region and the world. Jibril said Qaddafi, whose whereabouts remain unknown, is a growing international terrorist threat.
"Qaddafi is still at large. He has a lot of assets -- money, gold -- and the simple fact of thinking that he is still free and that he has at his disposal such wealth means that he is still able to destabilize the situation," Jibril said. "Not only within my country but also along the coast and in the African desert. It is no exaggeration to say that even beyond the African continent, Qaddafi, with the means that he has, could return to his terrorist practices."
Jibril urged NATO to continue air strikes on Qaddafi's forces in Sirte, the desert city of Bani Walid, and other areas until they no longer pose a threat to civilians in Libya.
"Despite what some may think, mainly that the Qaddafi regime has fallen with the fall of the capital and other cities, it is still true that the mission is far from accomplished," he said. "Qaddafi's battalions continue to kill innocent civilians in different regions of our country -- in Sirte, Bani Walid, and in Ghadames yesterday.
"And therefore, the very foundations of Resolution 1973 continue to be valid, and in that respect we would like to thank NATO for its decision to continue its mission for an additional 90 days."
Anti-Qaddafi forces early today were using heavy artillery to shell positions controlled by Qaddafi loyalists at the northern gates of Bani Walid.
NTC forces also reportedly have been fighting street battles against Qaddafi loyalists in Sirte. Reuters reports that transitional forces -- aided by NATO air strikes against Qaddafi's fighters -- had advanced to about two kilometers from the center of Sirte. But pro-Qaddafi fighters were putting up stiff resistance in the sprawling coastal port city.
A spokesman for Qaddafi said on September 26 that the ousted ruler remains in Libya and is contributing to the battle against the NTC forces.
compiled from agency reports