Tyler Hicks/The New York Times – 21.6.2013 – … Evidence gathered in Syria, along with flight-control data and interviews with militia members, smugglers, rebels, analysts and officials in several countries, offers a profile of a complex and active multinational effort, financed largely by Qatar, to transport arms from Libya to Syria’s opposition fighters. Libya’s own former fighters, who sympathize with Syria’s rebels, have been eager collaborators.
… As the United States and its Western allies move toward providing lethal aid to Syrian rebels, these secretive transfers give insight into an unregistered arms pipeline that is difficult to monitor or control. And while the system appears to succeed in moving arms across multiple borders and to select rebel groups, once inside Syria the flow branches out. Extremist fighters, some of them aligned with Al Qaeda, have the money to buy the newly arrived stock, and many rebels are willing to sell.
For Russia — which has steadfastly supplied weapons and diplomatic cover to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria — this black-market flow is a case of bitter blowback. Many of the weapons Moscow proudly sold to Libya beginning in the Soviet era are now being shipped into the hands of rebels seeking to unseat another Kremlin ally. Those weapons, which slipped from state custody as Colonel Qaddafi’s people rose against him in 2011, are sent on ships or Qatar Emiri Air Force flights to a network of intelligence agencies and Syrian opposition leaders in Turkey. From there, Syrians distribute the arms according to their own formulas and preferences to particular fighting groups, which in turn issue them to their fighters on the ground, rebels and activists said.
Qatari C-17 cargo aircraft have made at least three stops in Libya this year — including flights from Mitiga airport in Tripoli on Jan. 15 and Feb. 1, and another that departed Benghazi on April 16, according to flight data provided by an aviation official in the region. The planes returned to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The cargo was then flown to Ankara, Turkey, along with other weapons and equipment that the Qataris had been gathering for the rebels, officials and rebels said.
… The movements from Libya complement the airlift that has variously used Saudi, Jordanian and Qatari military cargo planes to funnel military equipment and weapons, including from Croatia, to the outgunned rebels. On Friday, Syrian opposition officials said the rebels had received a new shipment of anti-tank weapons and other arms, although they give varying accounts of the sources of the recently received arms. The Central Intelligence Agency has already played at least a supporting role, the officials say. The Libyan shipments principally appear to be the work of armed groups there, and not of the weak central state, officials said. Mr. Bukatef, the Libyan diplomat, said Libyan militias had been shipping weapons to Syrian rebels for more than a year. “They collect the weapons, and when they have enough they send it,” he said. “The Libyan government is not involved, but it does not really matter.” One former senior Obama administration familiar with the transfers said the Qatari government built relationships with Libyan militias in 2011, when, according to the report of a United Nations Panel of Experts, it shipped in weapons to rebel forces there in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. As a result, the Qataris can draw on their influence with Libya’s militias to support their current beneficiaries in Syria. “It’s not that complicated,” the former official said. “We’re watching it. The Libyans have an amazing amount of stuff.”