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New report warns of anti-aircraft weapons in Syria

WASHINGTON (AP) - 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 following 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.

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The most immediate danger is that anti-aircraft weapons, especially newer and sophisticated models, could easily be diverted to extremist groups operating outside Syria, it said. Porous borders and the presence in Iraq and other neighboring countries of groups affiliated with al-Qaida and other extremists heighten the danger that anti-aircraft weapons could spread to other trouble spots.

"In the hands of trained terrorists with global reach, even a few missiles pose a potentially catastrophic threat to commercial aviation," wrote Matthew Schroeder, the report's author. The analysis is based on government and media reports and video footage of anti-aircraft weapons posted online from inside Syria.

The extremist Islamic State group that has overrun much of northern and western Iraq also operates inside Syria. The militants, who have drawn fire from U.S. drones and fighter jets, recently posted an online propaganda video showing one fighter appearing to fire an older-model, Russian-made SA-7 missile system.

Most American and other commercial airlines already have halted flights over and into Syria during the past three years of conflict between the Assad government and insurgents. Citing the threat of MANPADS strikes, the FAA warned American carriers in May 2013 to avoid Syrian airspace, a move that was heightened Monday to a total ban.

"Opposition groups have successfully shot down Syrian military aircraft using these anti-aircraft weapon systems during the course of the conflict," the FAA said in its "notice to airmen." The agency added that the presence of anti-aircraft weapons creates a "continuing significant potential threat to civil aviation operating in Syrian airspace."

Russia earlier halted all of its civilian flights to Syria in April after officials in Moscow said a Russian charter plane flying from Egypt into Syrian air space was targeted by two surface-to-air missiles but escaped damage.

The destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 last month was a clear signal that civilian aircraft could be exposed to anti-aircraft missiles at both high and low altitudes, Schroeder said. "The shoot-down on Flight MH15 underscores the important of reining in the black market trade in all anti-aircraft missiles," he said.

The Malaysian jet was struck at 33,000 feet, well beyond the range of portable anti-aircraft missiles, killing all 298 people on board. U.S. officials said the Boeing 777 jet was struck by a long-range surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian separatists inside eastern Ukraine. Russia has denied any role in the attack.

Unlike larger vehicle-mounted systems, compact shoulder-fired missiles and tube launchers are difficult to track once outside of government control, and easy to dismantle and hide.

Schroeder said eight different MANPADS models have turned up in Syria. At least two varieties, the Chinese-made FN-6 and the Russian SA-24 Grinch, are newer and more sophisticated models with longer ranges than older varieties - up to 20,000 feet altitude- and are harder to repel by aircraft electronic jamming systems. A third new model spotted inside Syria has yet to be identified, Schroeder said.

"Once these weapons are out of government control, they could end up anywhere," Schroeder said.

The report names Sudan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia as likely sources for MANPADS systems smuggled to insurgents inside Syria but cautions there still is no certainty about their origins. Rebel groups have also boasted of seizing anti-aircraft launchers and missiles from Syrian forces.

U.S. officials have estimated the Syrian government had amassed as many as 20,000 MANPADS units before the civil war erupted in 2011.

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kiick23 August 19 2014 at 7:50 AM

I think it's fair to say the foreign policy of this President and his administration is the absolute worst in all American history dating back to 1776.

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7 replies
vietnamvet1967 August 19 2014 at 8:25 AM

Do not worry TERRIOSTS, Obama has your back

Flag Reply +16 rate up
2 replies
jtdancernh vietnamvet1967 August 19 2014 at 10:15 AM

Funny you should say that--Obama may have their back, but Bush-the-lesser, through nine months of gross, WILLFUL neglicence, all-but-held-the-cockpit-doors-open for the hijackers on 9/11.

But that's ok--I understand the need for you to have selective memory loss when it comes to truths that you find inconvenient.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
smfstiffy jtdancernh August 19 2014 at 2:52 PM

You are so so close maybe your ready to undestand that bushy and barry are from the same team. That barry is bush sr's protege as were the clintons. Yes this was when bushy 1 was the head of the CIA. Do some research now.
I know that you dont want to believe that BOTH sides a tatally in it together but they are.Welcome to your awakening! We are glad to have you Keep coming back ! Godbless

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gwhjelm vietnamvet1967 August 20 2014 at 12:44 AM

President Obama has more of your back than you will ever know. Yeah, I fought in Vietnam from 1965 to 1968, and have followed why we in different conflicts. The facts are, and still are, that Iraq doesn't want the US, and NATO military in Iraq. Right now it isn't our war, except for keeping what military people that we have in Iraq safe. So we have the Navy bombing places of conflict. However, I don't see any attempt to help terrorists gain against any government of this region. It seems that your complaint is somewhere else? We need reasons to go to war, and our government doesn't have any concrete reasons to start without consulting Congress, and our allies. Unilaterally, starting a war on a President Proclamation would be branding this country as a rogue nation, and I am not for that kind of action.

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lawings4 August 19 2014 at 8:47 AM

yes this are the same anti-aircraft weapons that Obama gave them and Obama said was missing. DUH !!!!!

Flag Reply +10 rate up
2 replies
Frank Barr lawings4 August 19 2014 at 11:38 AM

Something like guns to Mexico

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gwhjelm lawings4 August 20 2014 at 12:51 AM

No something like Iraq can't control the weapon's they where given. The Shite Muslims ran away from the weapon's, and now expect the US to give them new weapons. Maybe the Bush?Cheyney Administration shouldn't have ever started the war in Iraq. We only have an issue with one country and it is Afghanistan. After 9/11 we should have attacked this nation and destroyed it forever. But, Afghanistan doesn't have any oil?

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vietnamvet1967 August 19 2014 at 8:32 AM

Obama did good in Libya, YEA VSURE, just like he did watching ISIS march through Iraq, of course they want more heavy weapons, they had them, and the cowards let the terriots take them, no more, the brave ones are the Kurds
The ones that the Iraq's kept weapons from . 10+ years to train a bunch of Cowards
Maybe Saddam would have been better than this country now, who knows

Flag Reply +9 rate up
meanstr August 19 2014 at 7:22 AM

The great Heros of Syria the none Al-Qaida aided group now in Iraq the ISIS yes this is what happens when the United States trys to destroy a Government with Sadio Arabia .You think Libya is doing any better that one has left more nut groups act in Africa.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
1 reply
laclone meanstr August 19 2014 at 8:21 AM

You nut groups want to take over the world, yet you're not even smart enough to write a comprehensible paragraph in English.

No wonder no one believes your crap!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Richard August 19 2014 at 8:28 AM

Does Obama really know what's going on in the world? Doesn't he know the ******** in the East what nothing but to KILL all of us? Or maybe he just doesn't care.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
2 replies
ualfriend Richard August 19 2014 at 8:56 AM

tell that to your hero bush

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
slloyd414 ualfriend August 19 2014 at 2:09 PM

Sorry dude, but it's Obama's responsibility now.

Flag 0 rate up
foubabou ualfriend August 19 2014 at 2:49 PM

Why, does Obama talk orders from Bush? Is Bush the President?

Flag 0 rate up
Frank Barr Richard August 19 2014 at 11:40 AM

No but he knows he backing mike brown

Flag Reply 0 rate up
allstarcaps August 19 2014 at 8:52 AM

Uuuuh....HELLO!!! This is what the BIG secret was from Benghazi - The "bad" guys got Stinger Missiles - Hundreds of them!!!

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
oceanwalker100 allstarcaps August 19 2014 at 9:58 AM

What the hell MAbe libya leader should gave then to his people to stop the air war he be alive to day,HE hsd them should of used them

Flag Reply 0 rate up
BRUCE August 19 2014 at 9:02 AM

Really? You mean it's not safe to go and bomb another nation? Who knew.....

Flag Reply +4 rate up
Richard August 19 2014 at 8:21 AM

Think it's about time some of the desert was turned into glass?

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Stanley August 19 2014 at 9:25 AM

Doesn't anyone wonder where these people got all the missles? We were told the shipment never went to the so called rebels Kerry was arming to over throw Assad. Soon they will show up in Iraq shooting at our military aircraft!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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