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Chemical weapons sites found in Libya, officials say

By Jomana Karadsheh, CNN
updated 9:47 AM EDT, Mon October 31, 2011
"We found mustard gas missiles in Jufra and we asked our friends to come and help us," said Col. Ahmed Bani, pictured in September.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Libya's new authorities found mustard gas missiles about a month ago, they say
  • The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was notified
  • "The United States was notified because it is ... equipped to deal with this issue"
  • Gadhafi agreed to destroy his chemical weapons in 2003 and the project was underway

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Libya's new authorities found chemical weapons about a month ago and asked for international aid in securing them, a top military spokesman for the National Transitional Council told CNN Monday.

"We found mustard gas missiles in Jufra and we asked our friends to come and help us," Col. Ahmed Bani said.

He was adding details to the announcement Sunday by the National Transitional Council's outgoing prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, that two chemical weapons sites had been discovered.

Jibril, speaking to reporters in Tripoli, said the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Hague and the United States were notified.

Jibril did not provide any details about the sites, their location or when they were discovered.

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His announcement came the day before NATO was due to declare the end of its mission in Libya.

"Libyans have now liberated their country. And they have transformed the region," said NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday. "This is their victory."

International inspectors working for the OPCW left in February, the chemical weapons organization said, and do not know what has happened to Gadhafi's stockpiles since then.

But U.S. officials told CNN in August that they and NATO had been discussing Libya's chemical weapons store with the transitional council in case the Gadhafi regime fell.

"The opposition forces are being asked to keep track of what's going on" with both weapons of mass destruction and the regime's inventory of surface-to-air missiles, a NATO official said.

"We have had direct eyes on the storage facilities" of the weapons for some time, the official said, including the use of satellites, drones and other surveillance aircraft.

The official also confirmed that intelligence personnel from the United States and other countries had been in Libya over the summer to help maintain security at various sites. "Individual nations have folks on the ground," he said in August.

A U.S. official also confirmed that U.S. intelligence personnel have been involved in monitoring WMD stockpiles inside Libya. Both officials declined to be identified because of sensitive intelligence matters.

Jibril said Sunday the OPCW is in direct contact with Libyan authorities and is taking the necessary measures to help Libya deal with the sites.

Jibril said the situation would be handled by the OPCW and that a delegation from the organization is expected to arrive in Libya on Thursday.

"The United States was notified because it is technically equipped to deal with this issue," Jibril said.

He declined to give details about the sites or weapons, but said the OPCW will make an announcement soon.

"By making this announcement, we reaffirm that the new Libya is a peaceful Libya, a Libya that abides by international law, a Libya that aims for development before anything else for the good of its people," Jibril said.

Libya's chemical weapons stockpiles consisted of about 9 metric tons of sulfur mustard agent and more than 800 metric tons of precursor chemicals, as of February.

The destruction facility was sealed before the inspectors left but the OPCW does not know what happened to it since then. The inspectors' first job when they return will be to determine whether any of the material has been removed.

In 2003, Libya agreed to destroy its entire chemical weapons arsenal, which included some 25 tons of mustard gas and 3,300 empty aerial bombs. The entire stock of shells and bombs was literally crushed by bulldozers in 2004.

Before the outbreak of the crisis the Gadhafi regime had destroyed 55% of its declared amounts of mustard gas and 40% of its precursor chemicals for making weapons, according to the OPCW.

CNN reported earlier this year that Libya still had approximately 10 tons of the deadly blister agent left in its arsenal, according to an assessment from the Arms Control Association. Much of the material was located at the Rabta chemical weapons facility south of Tripoli.

U.S. officials say any chemical weapons material that remains in Libya would be difficult to "weaponize" into a form that could be used to conduct attacks.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr and CNN's Tim Lister and Pam Benson contributed to this report.

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