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Report Claims Militias Have Seized Qaddafi’s Chemical Weapons Amid Chaos in Libya

A report cites an unnamed Libyan military official as saying militias have captured a cache of Qaddafi-era chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent Sarin.

by Olivia Becker
Feb 21 2015, 8:50pm

Photo by Mohammed El-Sheikhy/AP

Libyan militias have reportedly seized chemical weapons — including mustard gas and the nerve agent Sarin — that were stockpiled by former dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

An unnamed Libyan military official told Asharq Al-Awsat, a London-based newspaper that is owned by a member of the Saudi royal family, that militias recently captured chemical weapons caches in southern and central Libya. The report could not be independently verified by VICE News.

The newspaper was unsure about the quantity of weapons seized, but their military source expressed concern they "may fall into the hands" of militants loyal to the Islamic State. The paper claimed to have — but did not share — a video that purportedly shows militants testing chemical weapons in a mountainous area south of Tripoli.

"In the footage, a militant is shown firing a projectile, producing flames followed by a cloud of dense white smoke that covers a wide area," the paper wrote.

Libya: A Broken State. Watch the VICE News documentary here.

The alarming news came Saturday as rockets hit the Labraq airport, one of the last major airports still functioning in the war-torn country. The rockets were reportedly fired from the city of Derna, which is largely held by militant groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. 

On Friday, IS-affiliated militants claimed responsibility for a series of deadly suicide bombings in the eastern town of Al Qubbah that killed at least 40 people and wounded 50. Following the bombings, helicopters left from the Labraq airport to attack militant locations in Derna. 

Islamic State loyalists claim responsibility for bombings that killed dozens in Libya. Read more here. 

On Monday, the Egyptian air force bombed militant targets in Derna in response to a video released the previous day by IS that showed the brutal beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians.

Libya has become the latest battlefield in the fight against the Islamic State, which, until recently, has mainly been confined to the territory under their control in Iraq and Syria.

The North African country has been engulfed in chaos for much of the past year, with two rival political parties vying for control over the government. A violent Islamic militancy has simultaneously been growing in the east of the country in response to the power vacuum left by the political crisis.

Egypt launches airstrikes against Islamic State targets in retaliation for beheadings. Read more here.

Labraq airport is near the city of Bayda, where Libya's internationally recognized government is currently seated. Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni fled to Bayda after being ousted from the capital of Tripoli in August by armed members of the rival General National Congress, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.

The Libyan branch of IS released a statement Friday saying that the suicide bombings were "in revenge for the blood of our Muslim people in the city of Derna," according to Reuters.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928