The Obama administration is investigating whether Iran supplied the Libyan government of Moammar Gaddafi with hundreds of special artillery shells for chemical weapons that Libya kept secret for decades, The Washington Post quoted on Monday U.S. officials as saying.
The shells, which Libya filled with highly toxic mustard agent, were uncovered in recent weeks by revolutionary fighters at two sites in central Libya. Both are under heavy guard and round-the-clock surveillance by drones, U.S. and Libyan officials said.
The discovery of the shells has prompted a probe, led by U.S. intelligence, into how the Libyans obtained them; several sources said early suspicion had fallen on Iran. "We are pretty sure we know" the shells were custom-designed and produced in Iran for Libya, said a senior U.S. official, one of several who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the accusation.
A U.S. official with access to classified information confirmed that there were "serious concerns" that Iran had provided the shells, albeit some years ago. In recent weeks, U.N. inspectors have released new information indicating that Iran has the capability to develop a nuclear bomb, a charge Iranian officials have long rejected. Confirmed evidence of Iran's provision of the specialized shells may exacerbate international tensions over the country's alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
Mohammed Javad Larijani, an adviser to Iran's supreme leader and the brother of Iran's former negotiator on nuclear issues, denied the allegation. "I believe such comments are being fabricated by the U.S. to complete their project of Iranophobia in the region and all through the world. Surely this is another baseless story for demonizing [the] Islamic Republic of Iran," he said in an e-mail.