1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Libya eastern army claims tons of missing uranium recovered

March 16, 2023

The IAEA had said the missing uranium "may present a radiological risk." The self-declared Eastern Libyan Army said it was recovered near the Chadian border.

The flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency waves at the entrance of the Vienna International Center
IAEA inspectors on Tuesday visited a site not controlled by the governmentImage: Lisa Leutner/AP/picture alliance

Just a few hours after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sounded the alarm about some 2.5 metric tons of uranium unaccounted for in Libya, the country's eastern rebel military claimed to have located them again. 

Libya's self-declared Eastern Army, which controls the eastern parts of the country under the leadership of army General Khalifa Haftar, on Thursday said that the 10 missing drums of natural (not enriched) uranium had been recovered near the border to Chad.

General Khaled al-Mahjoub, commander of eastern strongman Haftar's communications division, said in a Facebook statement that the 10 drums were all recovered some 5 kilometers (roughly 3 miles) away from the warehouse where they were originally kept.

IAEA Director Rafael Grossi had earlier told the organization's member states that inspectors found the 10 drums "were not present as previously declared" at the unspecified location.

"The loss of knowledge about the present location of nuclear material may present a radiological risk, as well as nuclear security concerns," the statement to member states said.

Since 2014, political control in the war torn country has been split between an interim government in the capital of Tripoli and another in the country's east, backed by military strongman Haftar.

What did the Libyan Eastern Army say?

Mahjoub said that the IAEA had visited site in 2020 and conducted an inventory of its contents. He said the site was then sealed shut.

The Libyan commander claimed that on the heels of the visit, a deal was reached with the IAEA to provide appropriate gear for the site's security. The gear would include personal protective equipment.

"Unfortunately, the agency did not provide those needs, which we are lacking amid the embargo on the [Eastern] Libyan Army," Mahjoub said. He claimed that as a result, security personnel were stationed further away to ensure they were not dangerously close to the hazardous material.

Mahjoub said the missing drums were recovered near the borders with Chad. He suggested that they were stolen by Chadian forces who mistook them for ammunition or weapons, then abandoned them when they realized the drums were of little use.

A video shared with the statement showed what appeared to be a security personnel counting the purportedly retrieved drums. Except, 18 drums were counted, rather than the 10 mentioned both by the IAEA and Mahjoub.

The eastern commander appealed to the IAEA for support in dealing with such hazardous material.

Turmoil in Libya

In 2003, former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi agreed to abandon a program to develop nuclear weapons.

Under the agreement, Gadhafi allowed weapons inspectors into Libya.

The country has, however, been in turmoil since 2011, when Gadhafi was ousted and killed in a NATO-backed uprising.

The interim government was only supposed to last until an election scheduled for December 2021, but that has still not been held, amid ongoing instability.

rmt, lo/msh (AFP, Reuters)