Al-Qaeda’s North Africa franchise acknowledged it had acquired part of slain Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenal, in comments by one of its leaders quoted yesterday.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, believed to be one of the leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), made the remarks to Mauritanian news agency ANI, which has carried interviews and statements from the group in the past.
“We have been one of the main beneficiaries of the revolutions in the Arab world,” said Mr Belmokhtar, an Algerian national.
“As for our acquisition of Libyan armament, that is an absolutely natural thing,” he said, without elaborating on the nature of the weapons purportedly acquired.
Officials and experts have expressed concern that part of Colonel Gaddafi’s considerable stock of weapons could end up in the hands of AQIM, which has bases in the Sahel and currently holds several foreign hostages.
According to several experts, AQIM has acquired surface-to-air missiles which could pose a threat to flights over the region.
Mr Belmokhtar also claimed a level of ideological convergence existed between his movement and the Islamist rebels who eventually toppled Col Gaddafi last month and became Libya’s new rulers.
“We did not fight , alongside them in the field against the Gaddafi forces,” he said. “But young Islamists, jihadis... were the ones spearheading the revolution in Libya.”
The National Transitional Council now in charge of Libya owes its victory over Col Gaddafi’s 42-year rule partly to Western military backing and claims to seek the establishment of a moderate Islamic administration.