CNN and AFP are reporting that the Shabaab, a militant wing of a Somali insurgent group, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), has threatened to treat “as an enemy combatant” any plane that attempts to land at Mogadishu Airport. According to AFP, the threat, which was posted on the Internet, was confirmed by Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow. The web posting reportedly includes a list of grievances used to justify the threat, including the airport’s use by “Ugandan and Bulgarian mercenaries,” money generated by the airport for the Ethiopian government, and harassment of “Somali religious personalities” by “US and Israeli secret services…” The warnings are accompanied by a graphic of a man pointing a shoulder-fired missile at a plane as it is landing.
The threat is not to be taken lightly. Last year, the FAS identified Somalia as one of three MANPADS proliferation hotspots worldwide in response to numerous reports of illicit missile activity, most of which involved the ICU and the Shabaab. In 2006, UN investigators identified at least six shipments of MANPADS and other weapons to the violent Insurgent group, including a shipment of “50 units” of ”shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and second generation infrared-guided anti-tank weapons” from Eritrea, “45 units” of surface-to-air missiles from Iran, and three surface-to-air missiles from Syria. In each case, the missiles were part of larger arms shipments that also included dozens of assault rifles, machine guns, and other small arms and light weapons. The Associated Press later reported that the ICU had received 200 shoulder-fired missiles from Eritrea alone.
In March 2007, the Islamists fired two advanced SA-18 missiles at a Belarussian cargo aircraft as it was departing from Mogadishu International Airport. One of the missiles hit the plane, causing it to crash and killing all eleven people on board. UN investigators later concluded that the missiles used in the attack were part of a consignment of six SA-18s acquired from Eritrea. This summer, the UN traced another SA-18 found in Somalia back to a batch of Russian missiles that were shipped to Eritrea in 1995. The Eritrean government denies allegations that it provides missiles and other weapons to the ICU.
To sign up for Missile Watch, click here. For more information on illicit MANPADS in Somalia and elsewhere, see ASMP Issue Brief #1: MANPADS Proliferation.
As part of its on-going efforts to track and call attention to the illicit trade in shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, the FAS is launching a new e-newsletter called “Missile Watch.” Subscribers will receive periodic updates on the black market trade in shoulder-fired missiles, stockpiling and use of these missiles by non-state groups, and related topics. A comprehensive archive of “Missile Watch” updates will be available on the Strategic Security Blog and on the Arms Sales Monitoring Project’s website at http://fas.org/programs/ssp/asmp/MANPADS.html.
To sign up for this free service, go to http://fas.org/press/subscribe.html.
The latest report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia sheds new light on the SA-18 Igla missiles illicitly acquired by armed Somali groups in recent years. Since 2006, UN investigators and journalists working in Somalia have documented the transfer of dozens, possibly hundreds, of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles to Islamic insurgents. The missiles range in sophistication from the relatively primitive SA-7b Strela to the third generation SA-18 Igla. In March 2007, two SA-18s were used to shoot down a Belarusian Ilyushin-76 cargo plane shortly after it departed from Mogadishu airport. All eleven crew members were killed.
On Thursday, famed arms merchant Victor Bout was arrested at a Thai hotel on charges of selling weapons to Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a 40-year-old insurgent group known for drug trafficking and terrorist attacks. In recent years, Bout and his affiliates have been accused of arranging illicit arms transfers in Africa, Latin America, Central Asia, and elsewhere.
The name “Victor Bout” has become synonymous with the large, clandestine arms shipments that have fueled devastating civil wars in developing countries, and the extreme difficulty of shutting down the global, ever-shifting networks that orchestrate these transfers. His arrest puts arms traffickers on notice that the days of impunity may be coming to an end.
The arrest could have significant practical implications as well, depending on the outcome of the case against Bout and the quantity and quality of information about his network acquired by authorities as a result of his arrest. If Bout is tried and convicted, and information collected along the way leads to the arrest and conviction of other key members of his global network – two big “ifs” – his arrest could indeed “mar[k] the end of the reign of one of the world’s most wanted arms traffickers,” as claimed by US Attorney Michael Garcia.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the FAS, the Department of Homeland Security has released a December 2005 report to Congress on the status of DHS’s efforts to counter the threat from man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) to commercial airliners.
The report, which Congress required as part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, sheds new light on several key DHS counter-MANPADS efforts, including airport vulnerability assessments, contingency plans for MANPADS attacks, and intelligence sharing and law enforcement training. These efforts are part of a multi-faceted U.S. campaign to deprive terrorists of access to these weapons and mitigate the threat from missiles that are already in terrorist arsenals.
The latest report from the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia contains additional information about the shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles used by Islamic insurgents to shoot down a Belarusian cargo aircraft in March. Below is an excerpt from the UN report:
On 23 March 2007, at approximately 1700 hours, an IL-76 cargo plane
belonging to Transaviaexport, a Belarusian company, was shot down after a missile
fired by Shabaab fighters hit the left wing. The plane, with 11 crewmembers and
passengers, was hit at low altitude following take-off. It had earlier delivered
logistics and spare parts for another aircraft that had made an emergency landing at
Mogadishu International Airport. The missile used to shoot down the plane was an
SA-18 (MANPAD, Man Portable Air Defence System). The SA-18 was reported to
be part of a consignment of six SA-18s that had been delivered by Eritrea to
ICU/Shabaab. Two missiles were fired at the plane; one hit the target and the other
missed. The Monitoring Group showed the Committee a video of the actual firing of
the missile, during the midterm briefing on 27 April 2007.
Note: After this entry was posted, the Associated Press revealed that the item in question is actually a 20-year-old expended AT-4 anti-tank missile launcher that posed no threat.
This morning a woman from Jersey City discovered a “missile” lying in the grass on her front lawn. Niranjana Besai showed the missile to her neighbor, who told CBS 2 News that at first he thought the 6-foot-long item was just a pipe. Upon closer inspection, he concluded that it looked like the missile launchers he’d seen on TV. The New Jersey television station said that their “sources” told them that the “device is the type used ot shoot shoulder-fired rockets and is capable of taking down an aircraft.”
Little else is known about the item, but initial descriptions are consistent with the physical appearance of many man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), the launch tubes of which are approximately 5 to 6 feet long and look a bit like a pipe. Private ownership of MANPADS is ilegal in the United States, and the version used by the US military – the Stinger missile – is one of the most tighly guarded weapons in its arsenals. If the item is indeed a MANPADS, it would have profound national security and policy implications.
On Friday, the Washington Post posted an Associated Press story with a video still of a man in civilian clothes holding what appears to be an advanced SA-18 Igla man-portable air defense system (MANPADS).* To date, the only MANPADS reported to be in the arsenals of the Somali insurgents were the less sophisticated SA-7.** The video was reportedly obtained by the Associated Press from an individual associated with Shabab, the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which controlled much of Somalia before it was routed by Ethiopian troops in December 2006. Last October, UN investigators reported that the ICU had received six weapons shipments containing several dozen shoulder-fired missiles.
In a report released this week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), FAS analyst Matt Schroeder provides an unprecedented look at global efforts to counter the terrorist threat from Man-portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS). The report, which appears as an appendix in this year’s edition of the SIPRI Yearbook, goes beyond mainstream media coverage of counter-MANPADS efforts (i.e. the myopic focus on anti-missile systems) by providing detailed summaries of oft-ignored but critically important programs to secure MANPADS inventories, destroy surplus missiles, collect missiles from the black market, and strengthen export controls. Also assessed are the strengths and limitations of the various anti-missile systems that are currently being considered for installation on commercial airliners and at airports. The appendix concludes with a list of recommendations for expanding and strengthening international counter-MANPADS efforts.
On Thursday, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) introduced a new bill that would require the Pentagon to establish a pilot program “to determine the feasibility and desirability” of equipping turbojet planes in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) with anti-missile systems. The CRAF is a Defense Department program that draws on civilian passenger and cargo aircraft to supplement the military’s existing airlift capacity during emergencies. As of November 2006, there were 1,379 aircraft enrolled in the CRAF.
The program established by the ‘Civil Reserve Air Fleet Missile Defense Pilot Program Act of 2007’ (HR 2274) would require the installation of DoD-certified anti-missile systems on at least 20 CRAF planes for a two-year period. The bill authorizes $75,000,000 to cover costs associated with the program, and is co-sponsored by Rep. Melissa Bean (D-IL).
In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) attributes the looting of Iraq’s arms depots to the “ovewhelming size and number” of these depots and “prewar planning priorities and certain assumptions that proved to be invalid.” The report finds that the US military “did not adequately secure these [conventional munitions storage] sites during and immediately after the conclusion of major combat operations” and “did not plan for or set up a program to centrally manage and destroy enemy munitions until August 2003…” The munitions looted from Iraqi arsenals, claims the GAO, have been used extensively in the deadly improvised explosive device (IED) attacks that have become tragically commonplace in Iraq.
But the IED threat is only part of the story. Iraq’s arsenals were also brimming with shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, thousands of which disappeared during the widespread looting of the regime’s numerous arms depots in 2003.