Training Manual Fuels Fears of al Qaeda’s Missile Capabilities

Mike O'Brien

A manual showing how to use a surface-to-air missile capable of taking down a commercial airplane has been recovered from a building that was occupied by al Qaeda in Timbuktu, Mali.

The 26-page document, which contains detailed diagrams and photographs is believed to be part of an "encyclopedia" of terror that was edited by Osama bin Laden.

Terror analysts fear that manual strongly suggests that the al Qaeda group in Mali now possesses the SA-7 surface-to-air missile, which is also known to the Pentagon as the Grail.

It also shows that the group is actively training fighters to use the missiles, which are also known as man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS).

It is believed they came from the arms depots of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Atlantic Council analyst Peter Pham is a former adviser to the United States' military command in Africa and an instructor to U.S. Special Forces.

He told the Associated Press: "The existence of what apparently constitutes a 'Dummies Guide to MANPADS' is strong circumstantial evidence of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb having the missiles.

"Why else bother to write the guide if you don't have the weapons? ... If AQIM not only has the MANPADS, but also fighters who know how to use them effectively, then the impact is significant, not only on the current conflict, but on security throughout North and West Africa, and possibly beyond."

U.S. were so concerned about the SA-7 ending up in the hands of terrorists the State Department set up a task force to track and destroy the missiles in 2006.

An American team flew to Tripoli in the spring of 2011, before the fighting in had stopped there, to secure Gadhafi's stockpile of thousands of heat-seeking, shoulder-fired missiles. But by the time they arrived, many had already been looted.