As Muammar Qaddafi continues his violent crackdown on opposition protesters, U.S. officials are worried how far the embattled Libyan leader may go to neutralize the growing threat to his power.
According to a Wall Street Journal report ($), Qaddafi still possesses caches of mustard gas and other chemical weapons, as well as a stockpile of Scud B missiles and 1,000 metric tons of uranium yellowcake, leaving Washington skittish.
"When you have a guy who's as irrational as Qaddafi with some serious weapons at his disposal, it's always a concern," a U.S. official told the paper. "But we haven't yet seen him move to use any kind of mustard gas or chemical weapon."
Libya abandoned its nuclear program in 2003 in favor of normalized relations with the U.S. and the West, but plans to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles were waylaid by bureaucratic spats with the U.S., officials told the paper.
Given the escalation of violence in an attempt to quash the opposition and Qaddafi's unpredictability, the officials' concerns may have merit.
Since protests broke out last week, Qaddafi has employed foreign mercenaries and, according to unconfirmed witness accounts, used helicopters and fighter jets to bomb his own cities. According to a range of estimates, hundreds and possibly thousands of opposition supporters have been killed. While the regime has downplayed the estimated death tolls as exaggerated, its rhetoric has been aggressive - Qaddafi called on his supporters to take back the streets during an appearance on state television Tuesday and his son, Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, said the crackdown would result in "rivers of blood."
The use of deadly force has earned nearly universal international condemnation. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama described the violence as(Though, as senior White House officials told CBS News, the president not to specifically name Qaddafi in his denunciations for fear that it could affect the safety of Americans still in Libya).