U.S. officials are sounding the alert about nearly a dozen commercial jetliners that have gone “missing” in Libya, a country that has spiraled out of control under Islamist militias.
Intelligence reports say that militia groups seized control of the planes last month and warn of potential terrorist attacks. In response, Egypt has stepped up security measures, while the U.S. is speeding up delivery of Apache helicopters to Egypt, presumably to provide support for operations in Libya.
While the most immediate threat posed by the militias’ control of the planes would be in North Africa, U.S. officials note that the proximity to 9/11 heightens the threat for Americans. WFB reports:
Intelligence reports of the stolen jetliners were distributed within the U.S. government over the past two weeks and included a warning that one or more of the aircraft could be used in an attack later this month on the date marking the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and Washington, said U.S. officials familiar with the reports.
“There are a number of commercial airliners in Libya that are missing,” said one official. “We found out on September 11 what can happen with hijacked planes.”
The official said the aircraft are a serious counterterrorism concern because reports of terrorist control over the Libyan airliners come three weeks before the 13th anniversary of 9/11 attacks and the second anniversary of the Libyan terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi.
In response to the Islamist militia takeover of Libya, Egypt has heightened security levels and is preparing for more aggressive military action. According to some reports, Egypt has already conducted strikes against Libya Dawn, the alliance of militias controlling Tripoli:
Military forces in North Africa, including those from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt have been placed on heightened alert as a result of intelligence warning of the stolen aircraft.
Egyptian military jets reportedly have conducted strikes inside Libya against Libyan Dawn positions recently, and U.S. officials said there are signs a larger Egyptian military incursion is being planned.
In what appears to be a move to provide support for Egypt's impending interventions, John Kerry told Egypt last week that the U.S. would expedite delivery of Apache helicopters to the country.