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18.9.2021 : 8:40 : +0200

Web Trafficking—Analysing the Online Trade of Small Arms Light Weapons in Libya


The Libyan revolution deposed the Qaddafi regime in 2011, bringing to an end the tight regulation of the domestic arms trade. Military stockpiles were raided, and small arms and light weapons made their way into the hands of non-state armed groups and private sellers. The subsequent conflicts after the fall of the Qaddafi regime have resulted in more weapons imported into the country.

From a virtually non-existent domestic market, the revolution and its aftermath paved the way for a large illicit arms trade in these newly available weapons to emerge. Like their counterparts in many nations, some of the players in this new market now use online resources to hawk their wares. Online sales via social media platforms are one of the tools currently being used for this purpose.  

A new Working Paper from the Small Arms Survey’s Security Assessment in North Africa (SANA) project provides an in-depth analysis of the trade in small arms and light weapons in the online marketplace. The Working Paper ties together interviews with marketplace participants with a detailed analysis of a dataset derived from long-term monitoring of some of the closed social media-based groups listing small arms and light weapons for sale. It explores the types of weapons offered and their likely routes into the Libyan online markets. It concludes with a policy-relevant analysis of the current state of Libya’s online markets and discusses the caveats and utility of such online monitoring for supplementing field-based research.

‘Web Trafficking’ also includes a lengthy annexe providing information and analysis about some of the more noteworthy weapons offered for sale on the online platforms. The annexe focuses on the more recently manufactured weapons. In its second section, it looks at some of the older, legacy weapons still circulating in the country. The Annexe offers a window in the types of weapons in circulation in Libya and the larger region that will be interesting to policy makers, experts, and others interested in the illicit proliferation of weapons in North Africa.

Key findings include:

  • Small arms and light weapons manufactured in 26 modern states were offered for sale or trade on the illicit online market in Libya.
  • Most of the small arms and light weapons offered for sale are attributable to pre-embargo imports by the Qaddafi regime, although post-embargo and post-revolution weapons are also listed.
  • Small arms and light weapons produced from 1992 to the present day and documented as circulating in the illicit sphere in Libya consist of materiel manufactured in 12 states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, Serbia, South Africa, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
  • Handguns are disproportionately represented in the dataset compared to the estimated percentage of the total small arms holdings in Libya that they comprise. This is primarily due to the high demand for concealable firearms in Libyan cities.

  • Substantial numbers of blank-firing handguns—primarily produced in Turkey—were documented in Libya. While these handguns are often bought and sold openly, some are being converted into lethal-purpose firearms by both end users and merchants.

  • Significant quantities of legacy firearms—both obsolete and obsolescent types—remain in circulation in the Libyan black market. Many of these weapons, especially handguns, remain highly sought after.

  • Most trades are apparently conducted with sporting, hobby, and self-defence uses or commercial benefit in mind, but some participants involved in the illicit online arms trade have strong ties to Libyan militia groups.

Download the Working Paper ‘Web Trafficking—Analysing the Online Trade of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Libya’.


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