The black market in the Sinai Peninsula is being flooded with weapons that were thought to be missing in Libya, The Washington Post cited current and former Egyptian military officials and arms traders as saying.
One military official in Cairo told the paper that Egyptian security “officials have intercepted surface-to-air missiles, most of them shoulder-launched, on the road to Sinai and in the smuggling tunnels connecting Egypt to the Gaza Strip” since the fall of Tripoli in August.
The large caches of weapons include rockets and anti-aircraft guns, said the arms traders.
According to a senior NATO official, Admiral Giampaola di Paola, at least 10,000 missiles are unaccounted for in Libya, worrying officials that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist groups.
General Mohammed Adia, of the National Transitional Council (NTC), who is in charge of armaments at the defense ministry, said that about 5,000 SAM-7 anti-aircraft rockets were missing.
According to U.S. estimates, however, there around 20,000 Libyan missiles are missing.
Americans initially thought that thousands of the missiles were destroyed by NATO bombing raids, but many missiles were apparently looted from unguarded warehouses during the chaos of the Libyan uprising.
Bedouins sell arms
The influx of arms flooding Sinai, which is already unstable and is located near Gaza Strip and Israel, worries Israel and other countries.
“We don’t want to see Egypt as a pathway to smuggle weapons,” Sameh Seif el-Yazal, a retired Egyptian general, told The Washington Post.
According to Yazal, several surface-to-air missiles have been intercepted on the desert road from Libya to the Egyptian city of Alexandria.
“We believe some Palestinian groups made a deal with Libyans to get special weapons, such as shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles,” he said.
Sinai is mainly populated by Bedouin, who rely on smuggling to make a living, including delivering food, cement and other commodities to Gaza for cash.
A Bedouin arms dealer named Abu Ahmed said that “tribal leaders buy in bulk for the tribe and then sell what they don’t need.”
He also said that the number of armed people in the Sinai has doubled in recent months.
“Bedouin are stockpiling these weapons in case the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak does not succeed and the police try to target them again.”