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Reports: Jihadists Steal Commercial Jets, Raise 9/11 Fears

Image: Reports: Jihadists Steal Commercial Jets, Raise 9/11 Fears The damaged main building at Tripoli International Airport in Libya. (EPA/Landov)

By Cathy Burke   |   Tuesday, 02 Sep 2014 06:46 PM

Jihadists have stolen several commercial jetliners in Libya, raising concerns with intelligence officials about 9/11-style terror strikes as the 13th anniversary approaches, some reports say.

The Algerian news site al-Fadjr on Aug. 6 said 11 aircraft went missing from Tripoli International Airport during fighting between militias, IHS Janes 360 reports, but says  the Algerian report was "probably not credible."

Subsequently, Mohamed Frikha, CEO of the Tunisian airline company Syphax, told Tunisia's Shems FM Radio that two Airbus-A320 aircraft belonging to the Libyan company Ifriqiya were missing from Misratah, Janes reports.

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Meanwhile, the Washington Free Beacon reports that information about stolen jetliners was circulated within the U.S. government over the past two weeks — including an ominous warning that one or more jets could be used in an attack marking the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes in New York and Washington.

"There are a number of commercial airliners in Libya that are missing," one unnamed official told the Free Beacon. "We found out on Sept. 11 what can happen with hijacked planes."

Sept. 11 also will mark the second anniversary of the Libyan terrorist attack on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Military groups in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt have all been placed on heightened alert because of the stolen jets, the Free Beacon reports.

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U.S. counterterrorism officials told the Free Beacon that intelligence agencies haven't confirmed the missing aircraft and are trying to locate all of the aircraft owned by two Libyan state-owned airline companies.

Security in Libya has been deteriorating as Islamists and anti-Islamist militias battle. A shocking video surfaced Sunday showing armed fighters partying inside a captured U.S. diplomatic compound in Tripoli, including one fighter jumping into a pool from a second-story balcony.

Michael Rubin, a counterterrorism specialist with the American Enterprise Institute, told the Free Beacon that commercial jets in the hands of terrorists could be "devastating."

"Who needs ballistic missiles when you have passenger planes? Even empty but loaded up with fuel they can be as devastating," he said. "Each plane could, if deployed by terrorists to maximum devastating effect, represent 1,000 civilian casualties."

Janes reported, however, that it was "very unlikely" that aircraft could have been taken from Tripoli International Airport without the knowledge of the Zintan militias that control it.

With Misratah and Mitiga airports the only two functioning international airports in western Libya, Janes added, "Misratan Islamist militias that control them will not want to jeopardize the political influence and revenue this affords them" by facilitating a 9/11-style attack.

Even if the jihadists stole the aircraft,"they would still need to transport the jets to other paved runways large enough to facilitate takeoff ... heightening the risk such movements would be spotted by foreign intelligence agency surveillance."

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