Report: 11 Libyan jetliners missing following takeover of Tripoli Airport

Bill Gertz, a veteran Pentagon reporter with many contacts, passes along a worrisome anonymous report:

Islamist militias in Libya took control of nearly a dozen commercial jetliners last month, and western intelligence agencies recently issued a warning that the jets could be used in terrorist attacks across North Africa.

Intelligence reports of the stolen jetliners were distributed within the U.S. government over the past two weeks and included a warning that one or more of the aircraft could be used in an attack later this month on the date marking the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and Washington, said U.S. officials familiar with the reports.

The aircraft which were based at Tripoli Airport include several jumbo jets:

The state-owned Libyan Airlines fleet until this summer included 14 passenger and cargo jetliners, including seven Airbus 320s, one Airbus 330, two French ATR-42 turboprop aircraft, and four Bombardier CJR-900s. Libyan state-owned Afriqiyah Airways fleet is made up of 13 aircraft, including three Airbus 319s, seven Airbus 320s, two Airbus 330s, and one Airbus 340.

There are, however, some serious obstacles to using these airplanes as flying guided missiles, or alternatively, as transport mechanisms for armed jihadis to be inserted covertly in a target like Europe, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or elsewhere. First, the airport was seriously damaged in the attack in July, and the condition of the airliners there is unknown, but at least 12 were damaged, according to the Guardian:

Photo via the Guardian/EPA

But given the number of aircraft present at the airport, it is quite possible some of them were undamaged, and that the runways are sufficiently intact to permit airliners to take off.

Second, a lot of training is necessary to keep an airliner in flyable condition and to actually take off and reach an intended destination. But that hasn’t stopped drug gangs from acquiring and using jet airliners for smuggling purposes.

Third, one assumes that it is difficult to fly airliners undetected out of Tripoli Airport. Yet, the world has seen in the case of Malaysia Airlines that large airplanes can and do go missing and their whereabouts remain unknown.

We have 8 more days until September 11.

Update: With perfect tiing, President Obama is reported have lifted the ban on Libryans receiving flight training in America/ Via Breitbart:

To the horror of many in Congress, President Obama has reportedly ordered lifted the 31-year ban preventing Libyan nationals from attending flight schools and studying nuclear science in the United States. 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s recent directive reports, “The United States Government and the Government of Libya have normalized their relationship, and most of the restrictions and sanctions imposed by the United States and the United Nations toward Libya have been lifted.”