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Arms shipments traveled from Libya to anti-Assad fighters, sources say

Dec. 5, 2012: A Free Syrian Army fighter runs for cover during heavy clashes with government forces, not pictured, in Aleppo, Syria.AP

Arms have been shipped from Libya to support Syrian fighters since almost immediately after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, according to an international cargo shipper based in the Mediterranean who said the movement of arms is well-known in Benghazi. 

The source, who for years has run multiple cargo ships between Libya, Turkey and other countries in the region, questioned why other countries like the U.S. aren't using those routes as well to help anti-Assad forces. 

"We did it before, taking arms into Libya to support the rebels and it worked. I don't see why we don't do it now and take the arms to help the Syrians fight Assad," the source told Fox News. 

From his location in the Mediterranean, the source told Fox News that ships, including some of his own, left weekly from multiple Libyan ports, including Misrata and Benghazi. The size of the arms cargo varied, but some of his ships carried in excess of 600 tons of weapons. Some of these same shipments also included professional fighters from across the region that assembled in Libya and thus have been dubbed "The Libyan Brigade," headed to the fight in Syria against the Assad regime. 

As a New York Times report ties Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to arms shipments into Libya during the civil war to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi, two separate British sources who have been on the ground for the last four years in Benghazi told Fox News the movement into Syria was very similar to the movement of weapons into Libya. "Weapons and fighters were absolutely going to Syria, and the U.S. absolutely knew all about it -- though most shipments have stopped since the attack on the American Consulate," one said. 

Due to obvious security concerns, both the British sources and the Mediterranean shipping owner want to remain anonymous, but have spoken with Fox News on multiple occasions from their locations. Their details mirror those provided to Fox News by an American contractor worried if he goes public, he will never work again. All say that the weapons from Libya have mostly been offloaded at docks in Turkey, but some of the shipments end up off the coast of Lebanon, where they are offloaded at sea. The trail then extends from Turkey and Lebanon across the international borders into Syria to support so-called freedom fighters opposing the Assad regime. Fox News was told there were up to five warehouses being used to store weapons in Benghazi and Misrata. 

When asked if the shipment of arms was a secret operation to those who live in Libyan port cities, or for that matter in other ports around the Mediterranean, the shipping owner said: "You can be sure everyone knows about it. It is no secret at all and much more could be done. The whole world should be doing more. The war in Syria is becoming a war of attrition and the Syrians really need the help." 

That shipper also tells Fox News that one of his vessels was fully loaded with weapons and ready to leave for Lebanon last July, when a U.S. agent insisted on boarding and surveying his cargo. The ship was eventually allowed to leave and headed to a drop-off location off the coast of Lebanon. 

Meanwhile, Fox News has also learned that the United States had multiple intelligence agents in the area for months and unarmed drones flew nightly over Benghazi nearly every night last summer, while also monitoring other Libyan port cities like Darnah. These same sources say the U.S. has had a lot of "logistics guys" in the area to help survey the movement of arms. 

"The administration didn't want to make decisions ... they didn't want to get involved in another operation after Libya. So for six to nine months they sat on their hands as the situation continued to deteriorate. Other governments like the Saudis and the Qataris started doing stuff to help the Syrian rebels which forced our hand," said one U.S. intelligence source. 

The U.S. source said: "The U.S. can absolutely say that we did not provide arms to Syria ... that is because it is a splitting-hair defense. The interim Libya government in November 2011 offered to allow arms to be passed along to 'Syrian Freedom Fighters' and that those weapons could go through Turkey and Lebanon. The distribution then went from there." 

The Mediterranean shipper said he worries about what will happen as the Syrian situation only gets worse and Israel begins to get hit with rockets. He said Iran and Hezbollah are more involved now than ever before, fighting and supporting the Assad regime and stirring up opposition to Israel to get the pressure off Syria.  He said "sending 600 tons of weapons on one ship or so a week just isn't enough."

Adam Housley joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based senior correspondent.

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