Fears that political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa could put weapons in the wrong hands may have become a reality, reports say.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants raided an ammunition factory in south Yemen, before explosions ripped through the building Monday, killing over 75 people. Witnesses said they saw four vehicles with cases of weapons drive off.
Meanwhile, another al-Qaida off-shoot, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has taken arms, including surface-to-air missiles, from a Libyan arsenal, according to Chad President Idriss Deby Itno. "The Islamists of al-Qaida took advantage of the pillaging of arsenals in the rebel zone to acquire arms, including surface-to-air missiles," he said, "which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries in Tenere." Deby called the situation "very serious."
"AQIM is becoming a genuine army, the best equipped in the region," he added.
In February, AQIM pledged to do "whatever we can to help" in the Libya uprising.
Libyan rebel leader Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi recently admitted in an interview with an Italian newspaper that some Libyan opposition fighters are linked to al-Qaida. "Around 25" men whom he recruited to fight troops in Iraq, are now fighting "on the front lines in Adjabiya," Al-Hasidi said.
U.S. authorities remain concerned about al-Qaida's off-shoots. Developing information indicates that AQAP is now "more bent on attacking the West and continuing to plot," an unnamed U.S. intelligence official told the Washington Post last week. AQAP is a "current and concerning threat," the official said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called AQAP "the most active and at this point perhaps the most aggressive branch of al-Qaida."