Rabta [Pharma 150]
Libya experienced major setbacks to its chemical warfare program, first as a result of intense public scrutiny focused on its Rabta facility [at Qabilat az Zaribah] in the late 1980s. Independent observers said about 30 companies from a dozen countries were working at Rabta. Construction began in 1984, and the Rabta chemical facility was completed in 1988. The Rabta plant is frequently characterized as the largest single CW facility in the Third World. Other reports, however, claim that the plant would have a capacity of 100 metric tons per year if operated at full capacity, which is a modest capability. A metal fabrication plant adjacent to the Rabta CW plant can produce bombs and artillery rounds.
After intense media attention was focused on the facility, it was supposedly closed in 1990, although the Libyans announced its reopening in September 1995 as a pharmaceutical facility. Although production of chemical agents reportedly has been halted, CW production at Rabta cannot be ruled out. The Rabta facility remains capable of producing chemical agents. It remains heavily dependent on foreign suppliers for precursor chemicals, technical expertise, and other key chemical warfare-related equipment.
As early as April 1980, the BND [Bundesnachrichten Dienst, the West German equivalent of the CIA], reported that Libya was developing a plant for the manufacture of chemical warfare agents with the help of West German experts, as well as a system for using them. As early as July 1984 the West German Embassy at Moscow, reporting from `non-Eastern sources' identified Imhausen Chemie as working with Libya, and detected its plans to ship chemical weapons equipment to Libya using Hong Kong as a cover. In early 1986 the German BND reported that the plant for the manufacture of mustard gas in Libya had been constructed under the management of a member of a German company. The plant was presumed to be on the site of the Tajura nuclear research center. By mid-1987 information from Western intelligence services concluded that a chemical warfare agents factory was about to be completed near Rabta, with a production capacity estimated at 1 to 3 tons of sarin nerve gas per day. At that time, the German BND reported that production was expected to begin at Rabta in September 1987.
The government of West Germany acknowledged that on August 3, 1987, its foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichten Dienst, using SPOT satellite pictures, confirmed that the new industrial plant near Rabta, Libya, was most likely for the production of chemical warfare agents. [SOURCE] Supplies from German companies for the construction of a poison gas production plant in Rabta were provided by the firms are IBI [Ihsa Barbouti International], Pen Tsao and Imhausen. One German firm had been supplying precursors as early as 1985. The State-owned firm of Salzgitter AG had supplied a plan of the plant and Imhausen Chemie had supplied components and chemicals.
The Reagan administration reportedly considered bombing the Rabta industrial complex before the Libyans had the opportunity to complete its construction.
US government revelations concerning West German complicity in the construction of the Rabta chemical plant initially strained US-German relations. West Germany, after thorough investigation, admitted that substantial aid came from West German industry. Wolfgang Schauble, Minister of State in the West German's Chancellor's Office admitted on 26 February 1989 that ".... the factory was not only suitable (for the production of chemical weapons) but was intended from the very start to make nothing but."
Qadhafi repeatedly denied making chemical weapons and for a time in the late 1980s it appeared that Libya had suspended operations at the Rabta facility.
In 1990 the United States determined that the facility at Rabta, 60 miles south of Tripoli, was the largest chemical weapons plant in the developing world. The chemical agents believed to be in production at Rabta include mustard gas -- used with terrible effect in the First World War -- and the lethal nerve gas sarin. US analysts concluded that the facility at Rabda resumed limited production in late 1989 after months of technical problems. The Rabda plant had not yet gone into full-scale operation, but even with limited production, US analysts estimated Libya had already stockpiled about 30 tons of the blister agent. In March 1990 White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater called for a vigorous effort to stop the operation of the plant. Fitzwater refused to discuss what those efforts might be, but won't rule out military force. US intelligence reported part of the complex is used to produce the gas and another part is designed for putting the deadly chemicals into weapons, such as artillery shells, bombs and possibly medium-range missiles. Qadhafi's spokesmen denied any production of poison gas.
In March 1990 the Libyan government claimed that a fire, set by the United States, had destroyed the Rabta plant. The US responded that satellite imagery indicated only minimal damage, and that the Rabta fire was a hoax. Burn marks were painted on undamaged buildings and flammable materials were ignited to create the impression of a major conflagration. US officials reported that the plant had resumed production by mid-May 1990.
In June 1990 the West German businessman, Juergen Hippenstiel-Imhausen, who was accused of helping to build a chemical weapons plant in Libya, testified that he was involved in the Rabta project, but didn't know the factory would make chemicals for arms. He claimed that although he was suspicious that the project would be in conflict with West Germany's export laws, he failed to investigate the true purpose of the plant for fear of losing the lucrative contract. West German prosecutors, government and security officials have proof that the Libyan plant was built to produce poison gas, and not pharmaceuticals. The West German businessman was responsible for overall management of the project, and his company delivered production plans and equipment for the plant.
Prior to closing its Rabta plant in 1990, Libya succeeded in producing up to 100 tons of mustard blister agent and sarin nerve agent at the site. Although the site was re-opened in 1995, ostensibly as a pharmaceutical plant, the facility is still believed capable of producing CW agents. In October 1995, Libya inaugurated a new multi-million dollar pharmaceutical plant at Rabta. The new plant, a joint venture with Egypt's Nasr Companies for Pharmaceuticals, is designed to produce medicines, detergents and cleansers
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|