Gaddafi's Radioactive, Chemical Weapons: Up for Grabs?
September 28, 2011 Tony Birtley / Al Jazeera & Richard Spencer / The Telegraph & International Business Times
There is growing concern over the legacy that the era of Muammar Gaddafi, the deposed Libyan leader, is leaving behind, as tons of dangerous chemical waste has been found at sites around the country. In a desolate part of southern Libya, about 800km from Tripoli, for example, about 10,000 drums of radioactive 'yellowcake', an essential ingredient in the uranium enrichment process, have been found. The neighborhood around the site has been plagued by premature births.
Libya's Toxic Gaddafi Legacy Tony Birtley / Al Jazeera
SABHA (September 28, 2011) -- There is growing concern over the legacy that the era of Muammar Gaddafi, the deposed Libyan leader, is leaving behind, as tons of dangerous chemical waste has been found at sites around the country. In a desolate part of southern Libya, about 800km from Tripoli, for example, about 10,000 drums of radioactive 'yellowcake', an essential ingredient in the uranium enrichment process, have been found.
Dumped in the Desert ... Gaddafi's Yellowcake Stockpile Sitting in row after row, each 15 long by four high, the blue barrels are as frightening as any remnant of the Gaddafi regime Richard Spencer / The Telegraph
SABHA (September 25, 2011) -- Some are marked radioactive, as were the open plastic bags alongside.
The powder they contain appears to be yellowcake uranium from neighbouring Niger. Yet when they were discovered by advancing rebel forces last week, they were abandoned, in tumbledown warehouses protected only by a low wall.
Niger mines yellowcake under a strict security regime designed to ensure none of it falls into the hands of illicit networks. But post-Gaddafi Libya affords little or no protection to this vast haul of material, which if refined to high levels of purity is the essential element of a nuclear bomb.
The Daily Telegraph reported last week that Iran, which is pursuing underground nuclear programmes, had joined in the looting of Libyan weaponry. Despite the dangers, international atomic agencies and Libya's rebels say it will take weeks to put safeguards in place.
There are at least 10,000 drums with a total capacity of two million litres, though most have not been opened and checked for their contents. They are being stored not far from the southern desert city of Sabha.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says it knew that Col Muammar Gaddafi had stockpiled yellowcake uranium near Sabha -- a relic of the years when he tried to develop nuclear weapons after obtaining blueprints from the Pakistani scientist, AQ Khan.
"We can confirm that there is yellowcake stored in drums at a site near Sabha in central Libya," a spokesman said. "The IAEA has tentatively scheduled safeguard activities at this location once the situation in the country stabilises."
After agreeing to dismantle the programme in 2003, Gaddafi was supposed to have given up all his nuclear technology. He was also supposed to have given up chemical weapons, but it is known he still had mustard gas awaiting disposal. A WikiLeaks cable disclosed that two years ago he was trying to sell 1,000 metric tons of yellowcake on the world market. No one expected such a valuable commodity to have been left dumped in the desert.
Sabha was an important stronghold for Gaddafi, who spent part of his youth here, and many of the locals are from the Gaddafi tribe. Abdullah Senussi, his security chief, right-hand man and brother-in-law, is from a town 50 miles to the north.
But the city was only lightly defended. A total of 12 rebels died in the fighting, with just one or two parts of the town resisting at all.
Having driven out the remnants of the Gaddafi forces towards the Algerian border, the rebel troops said they were ordered to secure former military bases -- a standard practice adopted belatedly to stop weapons stockpiles going missing.
They found the storage facility containing the radioactive drums totally unguarded. "I don't think it's ever been guarded," said Musbah al-Mangoush, an agricultural engineer from the town who escaped Gaddafi's grip three months ago and returned at the head of a brigade of troops from Benghazi. "This was a military base until the 1990s, but then it was abandoned. There was no one here."
In neighbouring sheds are rusting trucks, old fuel tanks, and surface-to-air missiles covered in pigeon droppings. It is not clear how long the material has been there. Mohammed Othman, whose family owns a farm five miles further up the track away from Sabha, says soldiers were seen unloading trucks in the area a year ago. Mr Mangoush, on the other hand, links the find to what he claims is a high level of miscarriage and deformity in babies in the area, suggesting a longer term presence.
Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the president of the provisional government, the National Transitional Council, said at a press conference on Sunday that a second find of illegal material had been made near the town of Waddan -- believed to be mustard gas. "There are weapons believed to be internationally forbidden, and they are under our control," he said.
The United States previously said that Gaddafi's yellowcake stocks were held at the town of Tajoura east of Tripoli and were "secure". The real site is now guarded by half a dozen rebel troops.
Fighting has moved on to the border town of Ghat, leaving virtually all the south of Libya, with its important oilfields, in the hands of the rebels. Of Gaddafi himself, there is now no sign.
"Tell us if you find him," is the commonest response to questions concerning his whereabouts. Gadhafi, the Battle for Sirte and Yellow Cake International Business Times
SABHA (September 27, 2011) -- Anti-Gadhafi fighters in Libya shouldn't be called "rebels" anymore now that the interim government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), has control of the country and has been recognized by nearly all of the world's powers.
NTC troops are currently fighting for control of Sirte, Gadhafi's birthplace, where loyalists fighters are putting up a fierce resistance. Pro-Gadhafi forces, "with the ferocity of men who... are making their last stand," according to Reuters, used rockets, artillery and snipers to push back the invading troops who have surrounded the city.
Council commanders tried to negotiate a truce with the loyalists, but all signs indicate that the talks failed. "Remaining Gadhafi forces refuse to recognize their defeat," said NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie, The Associated Press reported. "As a last resort, they are hiding in civilian areas."
NATO is backing-up the anti-Gadhafi fighters and has been conducting air-strikes on Sirte, as well as the city of Bani Walid, another Gadhafi loyalist stronghold.
Some civilians fleeing Sirte claim that NATO bombs have destroyed a number of non-military targets and are calling the attacks a "massacre." NATO, which confirmed hits on artillery and ammunition stores, reportedly bombed schools and hospitals in the city, according to The Australian.
Meanwhile, U.N. officials, working on information from the NTC, claim that uranium yellowcake was found in the south of the country. Yellowcake is powered, partially refined uranium ore used in nuclear reactors that can be used to make nuclear weapons. At least 10,000 drums of the radioactive substance were discovered, according to The Telegraph.
The council already found a large cache of chemical weapons in facilities abandoned by Gadhafi forces, including large quantities of mustard gas, which will be transferred to a safe location by the UN. "We are looking for a peaceful country and we don't want these kinds of weapons to stay in it," an NTC statement said.
Additionally, around 20,000 surface-to-air missiles are missing from storehouses, officials noted Tuesday. The locations of the weapons had previously been recorded by international monitoring agencies, and their disappearance is worrisome. "I think the probability of al-Qaida being able to smuggle some of the stinger-like missiles out of Libya is probably pretty high," former White House counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke told ABC News.
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