Security Experts Call for Global Inventory of SAMs

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Security experts believe a global inventory of shoulder-launched surface-air-missiles (SAMs) might reduce the threat of terrorists shooting down passenger airliners.

The analysts believe thousands of shoulder-launched SAMs already are in the wrong hands, but they believe an inventory could help control any further movement of the weapons.

Prof. Moustafa El Said Hassouna, a specialist in urban security at Nairobi University, said in an interview that rogue arms dealers have shifted their attention from small arms to weapons that could cause greater destruction.

Last November, terrorists failed in an attempt to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet near the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa, using heat-seeking SA-7s missiles.

Last month, Kenyan police found a cache of weapons in an apartment in Mombasa, including five SA-7s missiles. Fears of missile attacks against aircraft prompted British Airways to suspend flights to East Africa earlier this year.

Also in August, FBI agents arrested a Briton in the U.S. after he allegedly tried to sell a Russian-made shoulder-fired Igla missile, also known as an SA-18, to agents posing as Islamic terrorists.

Doug Brooks is president of the Virginia-based International Peace Operations Association, a group regulating companies that assist in military operations such as mine clearing and peacekeeping.

He said SA-18s are a serious threat to commercial airlines because they are difficult to defend against.

The only consolation for the global airline industry is the fact that the missiles are hard to obtain in the international arms market, and they are far more expensive than other models, Brooks told

Because SA-18s have a range of up to 10,000 meters, cordoning off areas around airports, as some African countries are doing, would do little to prevent such attacks.

Brooks noted that most airports are near urban areas, which could provide ample concealment for terrorists.

"The best bet [to address the risk] is good intelligence," he suggested.

The global military community must recognize that "these weapons must be controlled at a far higher level than typical conventional weapons."

"A proper international inventory of these weapons might make it possible for the international community to hold states responsible for damage caused by lost or stolen missiles."

Hassouna called for a moratorium on the sale, transfer and recycling of arms across Africa.

Developed countries that are the principal manufacturers of weapons should take the lead in addressing the arms proliferation problem on the continent, he said.

"The logic is - given no easy supply, demand is hard to actualize and probable danger is thwarted."

Hassouna said SA-7's used and confiscated in Kenya recently could be the "tip of the ice-berg." He noted that arms dealers were flocking to the East Africa and Horn of Africa
region, where there was a lucrative market.

"A regional approach to curb their activities must be found and is overdue," he said.

Somalia, the Horn of Africa country in political turmoil for more than a decade, is seen by security analysts here as a haven for illegal arms dealing.

Last month, the U.N. Security Council expressed concern about the "persistent flow of weapons and ammunitions" to Somalia, saying member states were not honoring their
responsibilities to fully implement an arms embargo on the country.

Some aviation security experts have suggested that passenger planes be fitted with anti-missile devices similar to those used on military aircraft, although airlines are expected to baulk at the cost implications.

See earlier story:
Australia Mulls Terrorist Missile Threat to Airlines (Sept. 5, 2003)

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