Libya close to finishing huge chemical weapons plant Factory is being built in hollowed-out mountain

February 25, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Libya is close to completing the world's largest underground chemical weapons plant in a hollowed-out mountain 40 miles from Tripoli, U.S. intelligence services say.

Col. Muammar el Kadafi, Libya's leader, says the project is an irrigation system. Western intelligence services say that is nonsense.

The subterranean plant may be completed in 1997 or 1998 and is said to cover six square miles. It already stores most of Libya's stockpile of chemical weapons -- about 100 tons. If it goes into operation, the plant will be able to produce the ingredients for tons of poison gas a day, intelligence officials said.

Though the CIA has not been able to photograph the plant, German intelligence services have obtained copies of construction plans and building specifications. The German services obtained them from a number of German and Austrian companies that sent construction personnel and equipment to help build the tunnel for the plant.

Libya has refused to sign a 1993 United Nations convention banning the use, development and storage of chemical weapons. It is one of 18 nations, including most of the countries in the Middle East, working on chemical weapons programs, said the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John M. Deutch.

Libya has been working on chemical and biological weapons since the early 1980s. It built a weapons plant at Rabta, southwest of Tripoli, with the assistance of German companies. That plant, which Libya said was a factory for pharmaceuticals, made an estimated 100 tons of chemicals.

After the United States accused Libya of making chemical weapons at Rabta, the Libyans said the plant had been destroyed by a fire set by Western intelligence agents in 1990. The CIA says the fire was a hoax that has allowed Libya to evade international inspection, clean up the plant, convert it to a legitimate pharmaceutical plant and build the new underground chemical weapons complex at Tarhunah.

Controlling the spread of the ingredients used in chemical and biological weapons is next to impossible, because many have legitimate uses as well as lethal ones.

Placing chemical warheads on missiles is not a simple task. But Libya has bought Scud missiles with a range of 180 to 300 miles from North Korea, and could convert them into a chemical arsenal to threaten its neighbors or use against internal enemies.

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