Keeping Qaddafi's munitions from terrorists

American diplomats have returned to Tripoli for the first time since the Libyan uprising began heating up in February. They raised the flag Thursday at a makeshift U.S. embassy. The main building was heavily damaged by a pro-Qaddafi mob.

Throughout Libya, the hunt is on for the missiles and rockets that Qaddafi's forces left behind when they fled. CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that there is at least one group that's trying to make sure they don't wind up with terrorists.

You might think the gates to a Libyan anti-aircraft base would be guarded, but you'd be wrong. Wayne Lomax works for a non-profit organization securing stray munitions in war zones.

He's come to Libya with a team to excavate one of Qaddafi's bunkers bombed by NATO in July.

They're looking for anti-aircraft missiles. Terrorists used a shoulder-launched version to strike a DHL plane in Baghdad in 2003.

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When the team started work one morning, they knew they were going to extract one missile, the one they could see, but in the last few minutes of digging they uncovered the very end of a second crate lying underneath the first one.

Then, as they moved more earth, a third and then a fourth came to light. One was a Russian-made SA9 with a heat-seeking guidance system that can take down a plane at 12,000 feet. The bigger the missile, the bigger the plane it can take down.

Qaddafi's vast arsenal of weapons was thoroughly looted in this war, much of it by rebels. Ex-rebel commander Moussa Fneer said they now have a stockpile of everything.

Those stockpiles, African Union officials say, are seeping into the smuggling routes that criss-cross North Africa, riddled with al Qaeda cells.

Libya's war has been a bonanza for terrorists.

Back at the bunker, Lomax's team prepared to move the missiles to a safe storage site.

"Just having one success, I suppose makes you feel better," Lomax said, adding that each success is one less weapon in the hands of a terrorist group.

At the end of the day, Lomax's success was seven missiles secured, but he had to leave one behind, wedged in the collapsing bunker, too dangerous to move.

His gamble, the one he had to leave behind buried in the rubble, is that it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."

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