During an unannounced inspection, experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered the disappearance of 2.5 tons of uranium compounds from a storage facility in Libya. IAEA director Rafael Grossi informed the organization’s member countries in a letter that ten barrels of the yellowish powder, known among experts as “yellowcake”, had been stolen from the warehouse, which was only accessible with “a great deal of logistical effort”. “Yellowcake” is used in enriched form for the construction of nuclear weapons. Libyan security circles said it was in a camp near the southern Libyan city of Sebha. The regime under Muammar al-Gaddafi had stored the radioactive substances there after the end of the secret Libyan chemical and nuclear weapons program.
Further north, in the city of Tajoura, Libya operated uranium enrichment centrifuges and a nuclear weapons research program. Under the impact of the US invasion of Iraq, Gaddafi stopped the nuclear weapons program at the end of 2003, and in return the UN sanctions against Libya ended. Gaddafi’s secret service chief, Mussa Koussa, later even rose to become a cooperation partner of Western services as part of their “war on terror.”
In 2011, during the uprising against Gaddafi, the human rights organization Human Rights Watch found documents in Koussa’s empty office that pointed to interrogations by British and US secret service agents with Islamist militias who had been kidnapped to Libya. Immediately after Gaddafi’s death in September 2011, these secret services warned of the security risks of the mostly unguarded camps in the Libyan desert, where many of these militias were based.
In December 2011, staff from the then United Nations special envoy to Libya found 6,400 barrels full of yellowcake and at least 500 tons of industrial chemicals used in the production of nerve gas on the road between Sebha and the nearby Temenhint military base. “All of the concentrated uranium powder known to us is available but accessible to militias,” Martin told the UN Security Council. He advised Libya to sell the radioactive material. However, the concentrated uranium remained in Sebha. Western intelligence services appear to have been too busy buying up thousands of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles sold by Libyan militias on Facebook or in markets.
Haftar’s LNA now controls not only the eastern Cyreneica province but also the Libyan Sahara and thus Sebha. Another partner of Haftar are the mercenaries of the Russian security company Wagner. In Jufra, in central Libya, the “Wagner Group” has several modern Mig-29 fighter jets from the Russian Air Force. “Russian transport planes regularly fly to Syria from the military airports in Temenhint, Jufra and Benghazi,” reports a Libyan journalist from near Sebha. The missing uranium shows how much the continuing security vacuum in Libya endangers the entire region. Haftar’s international cooperation could have given the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Wagner Group or the regime in Iran access to Libyan uranium.
At the end of March, the LNA spokesman Khaled al-Majoub presented a surprising turnaround. The missing barrels were found five kilometers from the camp towards the Chadian border, al-Majoub said. But many questions remain. A video shot by LNA soldiers shows 18 barrels, but the IAEA had only reported ten missing. Al-Majoub also claims that, contrary to what the IAEA describes, the hall was freely accessible to everyone due to the lack of delivery of the necessary surveillance technology.
A Libyan security expert from Haftar’s eastern Libyan stronghold of Benghazi, who wishes to remain anonymous, draws parallels between the disappearance of uranium and the currently dramatically increasing number of migrant boats leaving eastern Libya for Italy. At $5,000 a seat, both army officers and smugglers would make big bucks off the boat people. At the same time, the phenomenon is a means of political pressure. “Since only Haftar can stop migration, that makes him an inevitable partner of the international community,” said the Libyan.
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