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," said Atlantic Council analyst Peter Pham, a former adviser to the United States' military command in Africa and an instructor to U.S. Special Forces. "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," he added, "then the impact is significant, not only on the current conflict, but on security throughout North and West Africa, and possibly beyond."
This is not the first al-Qaida-linked group thought to have MANPADS - they were circulating in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a terror cell in Somalia recently claimed to have the SA-7 in a video. But the U.S. desperately wanted to keep the weapons out of the hands of al-Qaida's largest affiliate on the continent, based in Mali. In the spring of 2011, before the fighting in Tripoli had even stopped, a U.S. team flew to Libya to secure Gadhafi's stockpile of thousands of heat-seeking, shoulder-fired missiles.
By the time they got there, many had already been looted.
"The MANPADS were specifically being sought out," said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for Human Rights Watch, who catalogued missing weapons at dozens of munitions depots and often found nothing in the boxes labeled with the code for surface-to-air missiles.
The manual is believed to be an excerpt from a terrorist encyclopedia edited by Osama bin Laden. It adds to evidence for the weapon found by French forces during their land assault in Mali earlier this year, including the discovery of the SA-7's battery pack and launch tube, according to military statements and an aviation official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to comment.
They just couldn't destroy everything," said neighbor Mohamed Alassane. "They appeared to be in a panic when the French came. They left in a state of disorder."
The manual is illustrated with grainy images of Soviet-looking soldiers firing the weapon. Point-by-point instructions explain how to insert the battery, focus on the target and fire.
The manual also explains that the missile will malfunction above 45 degrees Celsius, the temperature in the deserts north of Timbuktu. And it advises the shooter to change immediately into a second set of clothes after firing to avoid detection.
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Underoos are defenseless in the face of these weapons.
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