On Tuesday, Libyan port authorities at Al-Khoms seized two containers holding a large cache of weapons and ammunition that were delivered by the container ship BF ESPERANZA en route from Turkey. The illicit flow of Turkish weapons and ammunition – in defiance of a UN arms embargo – reinforces longstanding concerns over Ankara’s support for Islamist forces that worsen Libya’s instability.
According to a Libyan media report, the two intercepted containers held various types of pistols and rifles and around 4.8 million rounds of ammunition manufactured by two Turkish companies, Zoraki and Retay. Illicit transfers of Turkish weapons and ammunition have been a recurring problem. In December 2013, Egyptian customs officials reportedly intercepted four containers of weapons from Turkey. In September 2015, Greek authorities seized the freighter Haddad 1 carrying an undeclared shipment of weapons en route from Turkey to Libya. Greek coastguard also seized in January 2018 a Tanzanian-flagged Andromeda ship carrying explosive materials, reportedly loaded in the Turkish ports of Mersin and Iskenderum, allegedly on its way to the port of Misratah.
In Libya, the confiscation of the latest Turkish shipment trigged angry reactions. The Libyan National Army (LNA) demanded the UN to open an immediate investigation into the incident, blaming Turkey for undermining Libya’s security and stability. Soon after, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya condemned the shipment for violating the UN arms embargo, saying the UN Panel of Experts on Libya should investigate the incident.
Shortly after the UN statement, the internationally recognized Government of National Accord ordered a thorough investigation.
A September 2018 report from the UN Panel of Experts found that Turkey was one of the countries involved in shipping arms to Libya’s rival factions in violation of the UN arms embargo. The report said that the EU military operation, dubbed Operation Sophia, inspected the vessel El-Mukhtar twice in 2017 and seized numerous weapons, ammunition, and associated materiel produced by Turkish manufacturer Kapeks Ltd. The intended recipients of the seized materiel were Islamist fighters in Benghazi. Further, a 2016 Panel of Experts report disclosed the seizure from the Haddad 1 of two containers with 5,000 shotguns and 500,000 rounds of ammunition produced by two Turkish companies, Torun Arms and Yavaşçalar. The report also documented the presence of Torun Arms shotguns and Yavaşçalar ammunition in seizures of arms leaving Libya.
These findings clearly demonstrate that Turkey is pursuing a policy of backing Islamist groups in Libya. Ankara’s failure to align with UN efforts to promote stability has exposed it as a spoiler that fuels divisions and armed clashes among Libyans. To address Ankara’s destabilizing role, Washington should work closely with the UN to facilitate strict implementation of the arms embargo and prevent Libya from becoming a key hub for illicit arms sales and transfers to neighboring countries and Europe.
Romany Shaker is an Arabic-language research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @RomanySh. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.