EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) – Egyptian authorities seized six U.S.-made missiles in the Sinai Peninsula Friday that security officials said were likely smuggled from Libya and bound for the Gaza Strip.
Libya’s 2011 uprising and subsequent civil war left the country awash in weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades, automatic rifles and other munitions. Since the end of the country’s eight-month conflict, smugglers have transferred some of the weapons to Islamic militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which has faced a security vacuum since the country’s own uprising, and from there onward in underground tunnels to neighboring Gaza.
Security officials said that police working on a tip from local Bedouin discovered the six U.S.-made missiles hidden in a hole in the desert outside the northern Sinai city of el-Arish before dawn on Friday. They said the anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles have a range of up to two kilometers (one mile).
The officials, who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to media, did not specify the make of weapon.
Over the past year, Egypt’s Interior Ministry has confiscated hundreds of weapons smuggled from Libya, often near the Egyptian city of Marsa Matrouh, which is located along the Mediterranean coastal highway some 430 kilometers (270 miles) northwest of Cairo. Last month, security officials seized 17 French-made missiles near el-Arish, some 750 kilometers east of Marsa Matrouh along the coast, before they could be smuggled through tunnels to the Gaza Strip.
Gaza has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since the militant Hamas group took over in 2007 following an election win two years earlier. Egyptian security often turn a blind eye to the smuggling of goods to Gaza, which ranges from cars to diapers to food, but have come down harder on weapons smuggling.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has provided funding to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to conduct training for officials from the Libyan Ministry of Defense and the Customs Authority with the aim of reducing the illicit transfers of weapons across borders.
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