The Libyan civil war might have given militant groups in Africa’s Sahel region like Boko Haram and al-Qaeda access to large weapons caches, according to a U.N. report released on Thursday.
The report on the impact of the Libyan civil war on countries of the Sahel region that straddle the Sahara -- including Nigeria, Niger and Chad -- also says some national authorities believe the Islamist sect Boko Haram, which killed more than 500 people last year and more than 250 this year in Nigeria, has increasing links to al-Qaeda’s North African wing.
The U.N. Security Council will discuss the report, which was prepared by a U.N. assessment team that met with officials from countries in the region, at a meeting later on Thursday.
“The governments of the countries visited indicated that, in spite of efforts to control their borders, large quantities of weapons and ammunition from Libyan stockpiles were smuggled into the Sahel region,” the report said.
Such weapons include “rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns with anti-aircraft visors, automatic rifles, ammunition, grenades, explosives (Semtex), and light anti-aircraft artillery (light calibre bi-tubes) mounted on vehicles,” it said.
More advanced weapons such as surface-to-air-missiles and man-portable air defense systems, known as MANPADS, may also have reached groups in the region, the report said.
U.N. special envoy to Libya Ian Martin, however, has told the Security Council that Libya's missing stocks of MANPADS have largely remained inside the country.
The report said some countries believe weapons have been smuggled into the Sahel by former fighters in Libya -- Libyan army regulars and mercenaries who fought on behalf of former leader Muammar Qaddafi, who was ousted and killed by rebels.
Some of the countries told the assessment team that they had registered an increase in arms trade across West Africa.
“Some of the weapons may be hidden in the desert and could be sold to terrorist groups like al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram or other criminal organizations,” the U.N. report said.
It also made clear that Nigeria was not the only country worried about the activities of Boko Haram. Officials from Niger told the team that Boko Haram appeared to have al-Qaeda links and “was already active in spreading its ideology and propaganda and, in some cases, had succeeded in closing down public schools.”
The report says that some national authorities believe Boko Haram members from Nigeria and Chad had received training at al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb training camps in Mali in the summer of 2011.
“Although Boko Haram has concentrated its terrorist acts inside Nigeria, seven of its members were arrested while transiting through the Niger to Mali, in possession of documentation on manufacturing of explosives, propaganda leaflets and names and contact details of members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb they were allegedly planning to meet,” the report said.
Links between al-Qaeda and Boko Haram have become “a growing source of concern for the countries of the region,” it said.