A desert chief with al-Qaida’s North Africa branch has said his group has acquired weapons from stockpiles left unguarded in Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar said “it’s totally natural we benefited from Libyan arms in such conditions”.
He was interviewed by an editor at the private Mauritanian newspaper Nouakchott Infos.
The interview did not specify the types or quantity of arms involved. The editor said he spoke to Belmokhtar by telephone, but refused to give his location.
Western leaders, joined by the UN Security Council, have expressed concern that vast supplies of now free-floating weaponry could end up in the hands of the al-Qaida franchise in North Africa.
It roams in bands over the desert Sahel region stretching from Mauritania to Chad. Porous borders and weak governments make the area impossible to police.
They have called on Libyan transitional leaders to track down the arms and secure stockpiles and asked neighbouring governments to do all they can to stop their proliferation.
There is special concern over shoulder-fired missiles. US Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro said Libya was believed to have about 20,000 shoulder-fired missiles in its arsenals before civil war began in March.
He said terrorist groups have expressed interest in obtaining some of the missiles, which “could pose a threat to civil aviation”.