Eleven commercial jets have reportedly been stolen in recent weeks in Libya, and Western intelligence agencies have begun warning they could be used in terror attacks on Sept. 11, the anniversary of the devastating Osama bin Laden-orchestrated attacks on New York and Washington that left nearly 3,000 dead.
According to a report in the Free Beacon, the jets were taken by Islamist militias in Libya, and reports distributed within the U.S. government “included a warning that one or more of the aircraft could be used in an attack … on the date marking the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks …”
One official in the report assembled by the highly respected Bill Gertz said, “There are a number of commercial airliners in Libya that are missing. We found out on September 11 what can happen with hijacked planes.”
Gertz now is senior editor of the Free Beacon, but he built his career during 27 years as reporter, editor and columnist with the Washington Times. He’s also authored six books and his online biography reveals the state-run Xinhua news agency in 2006 identified him as the No. 1 “anti-China expert” in the world.
His report about the missing jetliners notes authorities have a high level of concern because of the convergence of the cases of missing airplanes and the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
It also is just two years after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, a scandal that still is reverberating through the Obama administration and threatening to become a game-changer for the 2014 elections.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in that attack.
A State Department official declined comment, Gertz reported.
The officials quoted by Gertz said U.S. intelligence agencies now are trying to locate all the airplanes belonging to two Libyan airline companies, and they have not confirmed the aircraft theft, which reportedly happened after the takeover by terrorists of Tripoli International Airport in August.
“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,” the report said. “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.”
The report blames Libyan Dawn, one of the terror organizations operating there, for the alleged thefts in late August.
Following the warnings from Western intelligence agencies, Tunisia halted flights from Tripoli, Sirte and Misrata because of the potential the jets would appear in suicide missions, the report said.
And Egypt halted flights to and from Libya.
Gertz said military components from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt were put on a higher level of alert.
Libya has been an uncontrolled disaster area since the Obama administration engineered the removal in 2011 of strongman Muammar Gadhafi from office. His departure left terror factions struggling for control as the nation plunged into chaos.
Both Libyan Dawn and another group called Ansar al-Shariah were declared by Libya’s parliament to be terror groups. The report said Ansar al-Shariah reportedly has surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft guns and rocket-propelled grenades, among other weapons.
Abderrahmane Mekkaoui, a Moroccan military expert, explained to Al Jazeera broadcasting that “credible intelligence” reports say the jets are intended for use by a group called Masked Men Brigade for attacks on the 9/11 date.
Gertz reported that a counterterrorism expert, Sebastian Gorka, explained the events that could develop with the stolen jets.
“The first would be how commercial airliners were used on Sept. 11, 2001, literally turning an innocent mode of mass transit into a super-high precision guided missile of immense potency,” he said.
“The second tactic could be to use the airframe with its civilian markings as a tool of deception to insert a full payload of armed terrorists into a locale that otherwise is always open to commercial carriers,” he said.
Gertz’s report noted the planes themselves become an agent of destruction.
“Who needs ballistic missiles when you have passenger planes?” asked Michael Rubin, of the American Enterprise Institute. “Even empty, but loaded up with fuel, they can be as devastating.”