Missing SAMs in Libya alarms the Westhttp://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2011/06/23/Missing-SAMs-in-Libya-alarms-the-West/UPI-13131308856972/
CAIRO, June 23 (UPI) -- The United States and its allies are concerned that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups may have got their hands on scores, if not hundreds, of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles plundered from Libyan military bases after the civil war erupted there in March.
So far, only four missiles have been recovered, mainly by two European mine-clearing outfits -- the Mines Advisory Group of Britain and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Actions -- hired by the U.S. State Department to scour Libya for the missing SAMs.
Russia has sold countless thousands to Moammar Gadhafi's regime over the years, mainly Strela-2s, also known as SA-7s. But it's not known had many Libya had when fighting broke out there.
This type of missile, known in military-speak as man-portable air defense systems, or manpads, were designed to shoot down military aircraft using heat-seeking or radar-base guidance systems.
The first weapons were produced in 1944 by the Germans, who adapted the ubiquitous 22mm Panzerfaust anti-tank rocket launcher for use against aircraft. It was called the Fliegerfaust.
The first missiles using infra-red guidance systems, such as the U.S. Redeye, were introduced in the 1960s. Laser-guided variants followed.
SAMs were first used by terrorists in the 1970s and they've taken a toll of civilian aircraft over the years, mainly during civil wars or insurgencies.
There have been no successful shoot downs involving manpads for several years anywhere in the world, although Western and allied intelligence services have thwarted several plots targeting airliners in the United States and elsewhere.
The first known SAM attack on a passenger aircraft was in 1973, when the Black September Palestinian group attempted to shoot down an Israeli airliner at Rome airport.
In 2005, the U.S. State Department estimated that more than 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by SAMs since the 1970s, with 25 shot down, resulting in some 600 deaths.
-- Sept. 3, 1978: Guerrillas in Rhodesia -- now Zimbabwe -- shot down an Air Rhodesia Vickers Viscount airliner with an SA-7. All 36 people aboard perished. It was the first airliner downed by a SAM.
-- 1993: Two Transair Georgian Airlines planes were shot down a day apart in Abkhazia, in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia by insurgents, killing 108 people.
-- April 6, 1994: A French-built Dassault Falcon-50 executive jet carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigala, Rwanda. It crashed and exploded, killing all aboard, sparking the Rwandan Genocide.
-- Nov. 22, 2003: An Airbus A300 cargo plane, operating for DHL, was hit on the left wing by an SA-14 shortly after taking off from Baghdad airport. It made an emergency landing with one engine on fire.
Others survived SAM attacks. They include:
-- Nov. 28, 2002: Al-Qaida members fired two Strela-2s at an Israeli Arkia Airlines Boeing 757 shortly after it took off for Israel from Moi International Airport at Mombasa, Kenya, with 271 homebound vacationers abroad. Both missiles missed.
The militant who is believed to have planned the attack and may have fired the missiles, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, was killed in Somalia June 7.
-- March 23, 2007: a TransAVIAexport Airlines Ilyushin Il-76 crashed on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, after witnesses reported it was hit by a SAM.
The SA-14 that hit the DHL Airbus was one of thousands looted from Iraqi army bases following the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. There were hundreds of insurgent SAM attacks during the Iraq conflict.
As far as is known, none has been made in Libya. But during the 1979-89 Afghanistan war the Islamic mujahedin got their hands on a large number of SA-7s, fired more than 500 in action and shot down 47 Soviet aircraft and helicopters.
The United States has led the global hunt for manpads, which are available for a few hundred dollars apiece. In 2003, Colin Powell, the U.S. secretary of state, remarked that there was "no threat more serious to aviation" than SAMs.
Assessing the extent of manpads proliferation among terrorist organizations is extremely difficult. But in 2004, U.S. intelligence estimated that 1 million SAMs had been produced since the 1950s.
U.S. teams have dismantled more than 30,000 worldwide since 2003 but an estimated 500,000-750,000 remain in military arsenals.
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