Islamist militias in Libya took control of nearly a dozen commercial jetliners last month, and Western intelligence agencies recently issued a warning that the jets could be used in terrorist attacks across North Africa.
Intelligence reports of the stolen jetliners were distributed within the U.S. government over the past two weeks and included a warning that one or more of the aircraft could be used in an attack later this month on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and Washington, said U.S. officials familiar with the reports.
“There are a number of commercial airliners in Libya that are missing,” said one official. “We found out on Sept. 11 what can happen with hijacked planes.”
The official noted that the reports also come three weeks before the second anniversary of the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
A senior State Department counterterrorism official declined to comment on reports of the stolen jetliners. A second State department official sought to downplay the reports. “We can’t confirm that,” he said.
The officials said U.S. intelligence agencies have not confirmed the aircraft theft after the takeover of Tripoli International Airport in late August, and are attempting to locate all aircraft owned by two Libyan state-owned airline companies.
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