U.S. intelligence agencies are fretting that a desperate Moammar Gadhafi could resort to using weapons of mass destruction in acts of terrorism against Western targets or his own people.
Gadhafi has extensive stockpiles of mustard gas and high explosives at his disposal that could be employed in attacks against targets in Europe or against rebels in Libya, the Wall Street Journal reports. He also has a history of ordering strikes against civilians and other world leaders.
"U.S. officials are keeping an eye on that possibility," one U.S. official told the Journal.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledged that concern last week when he raised the prospect of a “targeted” action against Gadhafi if he tries to use his mustard gas stockpile or “other, undocumented WMDs,” The Guardian disclosed.
And in Italy, a key member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government expressed concern that Italy could face retaliation from the Gadhafi regime.
Gadhafi agreed in 2003 to give up his pursuit of WMDs and has been in the process of dismantling a stockpile of mustard gas. But “it’s clear he has some mustard gas left,” Charles Duelfer, a former United Nations weapons inspector, told ABC News.
Mustard gas is a chemical warfare weapon that forms large blisters on the skin or burns as severe as third degree. Severe burns are often fatal. The gas, first used in World War 1 and employed by Iraq during its war with Iran in the 1980s, can also cause temporary blindness and bleeding within the respiratory system, and increases the risk of cancer.
So far, counterterrorism officials in the United States and Europe believe there is not a high probability that Gadhafi will return to terrorism in the near future because he is focused on maintaining control of Libya during attacks from Western coalition forces, the Journal observed.
One American official called the likelihood "low," but added: "That being said, a madman's a madman."
There is also concern that, if Gadhafi survives the rebel threat and remains in power, he could use his rekindled hostility against the West or other Arab countries to justify terrorist attacks outside Libya.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently that Gadhafi “is a man who has no conscience” and, “if he stays, we can’t predict what he will do.”
If Gadhafi does remain in power, “the world must prepare for the possible reemergence of a global threat — Libya’s weapons-of-mass-destruction program,” according to Jamsheed Choksy, professor of Central Eurasian, International, and Islamic studies and former director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at Indiana University.
“After cleansing Libya,” he writes in an article carried by Radio Free Europe, “Libya’s leader will turn his attention to the foreign countries he believes fueled the rebellion against him. Gadhafi is well aware of the global turmoil he can cause by abrogating the 2003 WMD agreement he reached with the West.
Choksy also states in an article he co-wrote that appeared on the World Politics Review website: “Although he initially blamed al-Qaida for the populist uprising in Libya, Gadhafi is now threatening to team up with the group to wage an asymmetric war against the West.”
The Bishop to Tripoli, Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, agrees the coalition effort could backfire on allied forces.
In an interview with the Italian news agency ANSA, Martinelli, who is reported to know the colonel well, said he hoped Gaddafi would surrender, but that he didn't think he would do so. “On the contrary,” he said, “I think the use of force will accentuate a reaction. In my opinion, the go-ahead has been given to the wrong strategy.”
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