Air Defense: October 24, 2003


: The United States won agreement from Asian and Pacific Rim governments to sharply restrict the use and transfer of shoulder-fired missiles that could be used terrorist groups to shoot down passenger planes. Meeting with Asian foreign ministers, Secretary of State Powell called for joint action to control trade in the American-made Stinger, Russian "Strela" and "Igla" MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems). These are shoulder fired missiles that weight under 30 pounds. The United States government had previously resisted formal international restrictions on the transfer of shoulder-fired missiles.

The regional press is already misinterpreting the initiative as a "ban on purchasing". Malaysia plans to go ahead with it's $48 million contract to purchase Russian-made Igla MANPADS (signed back in April 2002) while stressing that their weapons were kept locked up. The Malaysian army still uses outdated Rapier and some US-made Stingers. 

The real concern revolved around some nations handing over the missiles to rebel or terrorist groups, either willingly or through poor inventory controls. The problem extends beyond the Pacific region (the APEC meetings in Thailand were plagued by rumors of local terrorists acquiring six Chinese-made MANPADs from Cambodia). The Russians have had numerous close calls with arms depot thefts. In July, eight Strelas stolen from a naval weapons storage base near Leningrad were faulty and slated for salvage. In another case, ten stolen Strelas were just barely recovered by Federal investigators.

The other method that terrorists groups could acquire these weapons is by an overt purchase while bluffing their way past poor records checking controls. For example, a Sunday Times reporter (posing as the representative of a fictitious Gibraltar-registered company) approached Northumberland-based arms dealer Peter Scott early in September with a request to buy 200 Igla missiles. With a fake Rwandan End User Certificate, the reporter was able to get a quote of around $50,000 per missile. The journalist's investigation also established that it would be possible to send a cargo plane to pick up the $11.5 million worth of munitions, apparently in Poland. 

The same reporter also contacted Petina International, based in the Slovak capital Bratislava, and got a slightly cheaper quote on Igla missiles (as well as RPG launchers and rockets). Petina representatives were quick to deny the details of the article.

In August, north London businessman Hemant Lakhani and two other defendants were arrested in New Jersey during an FBI-sting for knowingly planning to sell a MANPAD that was be used in a terrorist attack against a commercial airliner. Lakhani also agreed to arrange the sale of at least another 50 antiaircraft missiles to someone he thought was representing a Somali terror organization. 

Terrorists have used MANPADS against airliners with limited success (the most recent example, in Kenya back in November 2002, was a failure). Ironically, many view MANPADS as a defensive measure against the known terrorist tactic of flying an aircraft into occupied buildings. - Adam Geibel

New APEC Initiatives on Counterterrorism, online at: 

Hemant Lakhani et al. Criminal Complaint News Release online at:


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