WASHINGTON — Armed groups in Syria have an estimated several hundred portable anti-aircraft missiles that could easily be diverted to extremists and used to destroy low-flying commercial planes, according to a new report by a respected international research group. It cites the risk that the missiles could be smuggled out of Syria by terrorists.
The report was released just hours after the Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice Monday to U.S. airlines banning all flights in Syrian airspace. The agency said armed extremists in Syria are "known to be equipped with a variety of anti-aircraft weapons which have the capability to threaten civilian aircraft." The agency had previously warned against flights over Syria, but had not prohibited them.
Small Arms Survey, a Switzerland-based research organization that analyzes the global flow of weapons, published its findings Tuesday after last month's lethal missile attack on a passenger jet flying over Ukraine. The report focuses on launchers and missiles known as "man-portable air defense systems," or MANPADS, which are dangerous to planes flying at lower altitudes or ones taking off or landing.
The new report estimated that several hundred anti-aircraft missile systems are already in rebel arsenals. Mostly Russian and Chinese in origin, the weapons have been seized by Syrian opposition militias from government forces and smuggled in from nations sympathetic to the insurgents, the report said.
Read Wednesday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.