Grenades, Guns, Missiles: Libya's Virtual Arms Market | 2014
When Moammar Gadhafi’s regime collapsed in 2011, Libya was left leaderless. In the ensuing years, rebel militias have battled one another for control of the country in a series of deadly bombings and shootouts. With fighting unavoidable and no end in sight, Libyan civilians are picking up AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) to protect their families from the militias.
Of course, they don't have to look far. Libya’s parliament estimates that 15 million weapons—many left over from Gadhafi’s massive caches—are circulating within the country. That’s two and a half weapons per person. Times being what they are, many use social media to source their household arms. Since the beginning of the year, Vocativ has been monitoring Facebook and other online activity in Libya to track this phenomenon. What we discovered was a virtual arms market, complete with dealers claiming to live in Tripoli, advertised prices and hagglers in the comment section.
In a video report from on the ground in Tripoli, Vocativ producer Lindsay Snell meets with an arms dealer who refers to himself as “Batsha.” Squatting over his collection of ammunition and firearms, Batsha selects a weapon and demonstrates how to load it. “This is a Kalashkinov. It is the most popular weapon in Libya. It costs $1,200,” he says as he cocks the rifle. After rattling off a list of the other guns and missiles up for sale (their prices range from $800 to $5,000), he says, “Everyone in Libya is armed. Everyone has a weapon.”
After speaking with a handful of civilians during our visit to Tripoli, Batsha’s claim that virtually all of Libya packs heat checks out. “Everyone has to be armed. We don’t trust the militias, we don’t trust the government, we don’t trust anyone,” says university student Ahmed Klisel, AK-47 in hand. "It’s really easy to obtain weapons in Libya. An AK-47 is a necessity in every household. More households have more than one. Or they have an AK-47 and a few pistols, handguns.”
And it’s not just men who carry weapons. Fidgeting with a small handgun, single mother Hind Ahmed Benghagab says, “We never thought we would see the day where Libyan women would need guns.”
With the massive surplus of military-grade weapons and the ease of purchase, deadly armaments often wind up in the wrong hands. According to a recent U.N. report, violent militant groups from Boko Haram in Nigeria to jihadis in Syria have obtained guns and other arms from Libya. While strife and chaos is Gadhafi's endowment to the nation he ruled with an iron fist, it's the second lives of the weapons he amassed and left behind that may be his lasting and violent global legacy.
See more on our website: http://www.vocativ.com
Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/vocativ
Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Vocativ