As more Libyan rebels are flaunting Qaddafi's golden handguns, we can't help but wonder what they're doing with the warehouses full of surface-to-air missiles. It's been a couple of months since the rebels stormed Tripoli, but we're hearing more and more stories about what they found when they stormed the military bases. Some of the stories are entertaining. Others are unnerving.
An Atlantic Wire reader just sent us the above photo of what appears to be a gold-plated Beretta 92 that was allegedly taken from Qaddafi's main military base in Tripoli. The reader, a Lebanese national who works in development consulting, says he was hanging around in Martyr Square on September 21, three days after the fall of Tripoli, when he struck up a conversation with some Libyan rebels from Jado who were some of the first to arrive in the capital.
"I was just chatting to the guy who was in charge because I was impressed with how they installed the anti-aircraft gun on the pick-up truck," said The Atlantic Wire reader, who asked not to be named. "And he called over a younger rebel and told him to show me the gun."
The black handle and blinding gold shine matches a previously taken photograph of a rebel soldier holding up a gun that he said once belonged to Qaddafi. We've learned over the past month or so that Qaddafi had a bit of a love affair with golden guns--as well as pretty much anything made of gold. Qaddafi loved golden guns so much that he was carrying one when a rebel fighter who found him hiding in a drainage ditch on the day that he was captured and killed. That gun as well as this latest discovery both featured coins embedded in the handle and messages inscribed on the barrel.
"I think it's an antique coin, maybe an old Iraqi coin because it's presumably a present from Iraq," the reader said in an email. "The rubbed off bit is the inscription. It said something like "to my dear friend, from Tariq Aziz", but I'm not sure." (Aziz is the former foreign minister of Iraq and close advisor to Saddam Hussein who was convicted of war crimes last year.) "He just shoved it in my hand and boasted about how he found it in Bab al-Aziziyah."We joked about how war criminals like to give each other guns."
War criminals also liked to give each other some pretty dangerous, heavy weaponry that's still unaccounted for and reportedly very cheap. Con Coughlin at The Telegraph reports this week:
As a result of Gaddafi's arms profligacy, liberated Libya is now awash with weapons, with rival groups of heavily-armed militiamen positioned at the major intersections of Libya's principal towns and cities. The ready availability of guns has meant that the street price of a Kalashnikov assault rifle has fallen from $2,000 before the conflict to around $800. …
But the real concern is not light weaponry such as assault rifles, but what has become of the vast stockpiles of more sophisticated weaponry, such as long-range rockets and surface-to-air missiles, which the Gaddafi regime is known to have acquired, but which have somehow vanished into the sands of the Libyan desert during the confusion of war.
With the civil war in Libya now officially over, everyone agrees that the top priority is finding and securing those missing weapons. On her recent unannounced trip to Libya demanded the destruction of Qaddafi's weapon stores--that is, as soon as we can find them. Perhaps, the onus will fall on development workers like the one holding the weapon above, and NATO forces for seeing the job through.
Meanwhile, the golden guns that are already accounted for would make for a popular, if somewhat tasteless tourist attraction. (There's a similar one in Mexico that features the baroquely designed golden weapons of drug lords.) After all, anything is better than the dead dictator's body on display in a meat locker.