Katharine Lackey and Oren Dorell, USA Today
Reports that 11 commercial jetliners are missing from the main airport in Libya’s capital of Tripoli are raising fears that militants could use them in terrorist attacks to mark the 13th anniversary of 9/11 next week.
The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news website, cited anonymous sources who said intelligence agencies have warned the jets could be used in attacks in North Africa and elsewhere on Sept. 11.
The date also marks the second anniversary of the Libyan terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “We have nothing to confirm these reports about missing airliners.”
A spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, Bernadette Meehan, also said there’s been no confirmation that aircraft had been stolen.
Images have surfaced online showing militants posing with the jetliners taken when the militants overran Tripoli’s airport last month in a fierce battle that left much of the airport and its aircraft damaged.
In the past four months, a renegade general has battled Islamic militants in the eastern city of Benghazi – cradle of the 2011 uprising that toppled Moammar Gadhafi – as powerful regional militias have fought for control of the Tripoli airport. Islamist-allied militias have seized virtually all of the capital.
Moroccan military expert Abderrahmane Mekkaoui said there was “credible intelligence” that one Libyan militia “is plotting to use the planes in attacks on the (region) on the 9/11 anniversary,” The Huffington Post reported, citing Al Jazeera television.
An aviation security expert said the planes, if actually seized by terrorists, would pose more of a threat to countries near Libya than the U.S. homeland.
Any stolen aircraft from Libya would unlikely penetrate post-9/11 U.S. air defense and security measures, but they could pose a threat to targets that are much closer, said Jeffrey Price, author of Practical Aviation Security and professor at Metropolitan State University in Denver.