AL-QAEDA'S offshoot in North Africa has snatched surface-to-air missiles from an arsenal in Libya during the civil strife there, Chad's President says.
Idriss Deby Itno did not say how many surface-to-air missiles were stolen, but told the African weekly Jeune Afrique that he was "100 per cent sure" of his assertion.
"The Islamists of al-Qaeda took advantage of the pillaging of arsenals in the rebel zone to acquire arms, including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries in Tenere," a desert region of the Sahara that stretches from northeast Niger to western Chad, Deby said in the interview.
"This is very serious. AQIM is becoming a genuine army, the best equipped in the region," he said.
His claim was echoed by officials in other countries in the region who said that they were worried that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) might have acquired "heavy weapons", thanks to the insurrection.
"We have sure information. We are very worried for the sub-region," a Malian security source who did not want to be named said.
AQIM originated as an armed Islamist resistance movement to the secular Algerian government.
It now operates mainly in Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, where it has attacked military targets and taken civilian hostages, particularly Europeans, some of whom it has killed.
"We have the same information," about heavy weapons, including SAM 7 missiles, a military source from Niger said.
"It is very worrying. This overarming is a real danger for the whole zone," he added
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