The United States is investigating whether Iran supplied Muammar Qaddafi’s government in Libya with hundreds of special artillery shells for chemical weapons that Libya kept secret for decades, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.
According to U.S. officials, the shells, which Libya filled with highly toxic mustard agent, were uncovered in recent weeks by revolutionary fighters at two sites in central Libya. Both are under heavy guard and round-the-clock surveillance by drones, according to the report.
The discovery of the shells has prompted a probe, led by U.S. intelligence, into how the Libyans obtained them, and several sources said early suspicion had fallen on Iran.
A U.S. official told The Washington Post that the Americans are “pretty sure we know” the shells were custom-designed and produced in Iran for Libya.
A U.S. official with access to classified information confirmed that there were “serious concerns” that Iran had provided the shells to the Qaddafi government, albeit some years ago.
The stockpile’s existence violates Qaddafi’s promises in 2004 to the United States, Britain and the United Nations to declare and begin destruction of all of Libya’s chemical arms. A third official told The Washington Post that Qaddafi’s government was “sitting on stuff that was not secure, and the world did not know about it.”
The allegation was denied by Mohammed Javad Larijani, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader who told The Washington Post, “I believe such comments are being fabricated by the U.S. to complete their project of Iranophobia in the region and all through the world. Surely this is another baseless story for demonizing [the] Islamic Republic of Iran.”
During the recent civil war in Libya, it was confirmed that Qaddafi had ten tons of mustard gas stockpiled, and it was feared he might use it on opposition forces seeking to bring an end to his regime. The U.S. State Department later said, however, that it believes the mustard gas stockpiles are secure.
The Washington Post noted, however, that the stockpile in question was one that Qaddafi had previously declared and which was stored in a remote desert site. Officials were unaware of the filled artillery shells, which posed a much greater threat.