Islamic extremists in the deserts of North Africa are exploiting the chaos and violence in Libya to obtain weapons, warned Franco Frattini, Italy’s Foreign Minister.

Extremists in the Sahel region have taken advantage of the conflict in Libya to get arms, Frattini told reporters during a visit to Algeria.

Frattini’s comments represent the first such explicit utterance by a senior European official.

Algeria had already warned that the North African branch of al Qaeda's [al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)] is smuggling weapons into the Sahara desert from Libya.

Meanwhile, Mauritania, Mali and Niger are asking foreign countries for help in combating AQIM.

Saleh Ould Dahmach, a prominent member of Mauritania's ruling Union for the Republic Party, told Magharebia.com: The request by the Sahel countries for support and assistance to combat al-Qaeda is very well-founded with the growing phenomenon of terrorism and crisis in the Libyan situation, as it constitutes a source of diversification of the capacity of the armed group, which has become more serious.”

He added that there significant problems in controlling the vast desert, the limited capacity of defense of these countries and their suffering from development problems.”

Similarly, officials in the country of Niger have reported increase smuggling of guns from Libya to terrorists there.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe visited Nouakchott, the capital and of Mauritania, to assess the threat posed by AQIM.