Qaddafi forces look to gain the upper hand as they attack rebels in oil port cities.
WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence agencies are watching for signs that a desperate Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, under attack from a coalition air assault, could resort to acts of terrorism against Western targets.
Col. Qaddafi has extensive stockpiles of mustard gas and high explosives at his disposal that could be used in attacks against targets in Europe or against his own people. He also has a documented history of orchestrating strikes against civilians and other world leaders.
"U.S. officials are keeping an eye on that possibility," one U.S. official said.
So far, counterterrorism officials in the U.S. and Europe believe there is a low probability of Qaddafi returning to terrorism in the near term because he is focused for now on maintaining his hold on power during Western airstrikes.
"We haven't seen any intelligence yet" that he is actively reestablishing his terrorism ties or plotting attacks outside Libya, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said. Another U.S. official called the likelihood "low," but added: "That being said, a madman's a madman."
John Brennan, President Obama's top White House counterterrorism adviser, has first-hand knowledge of Qaddafi's past ties to terrorism. One of Brennan's colleagues at the CIA died aboard Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, an attack blamed on Qaddafi.
A bigger concern, U.S. officials say, is what Qaddafi would do if he survives in power and becomes an international recluse who could use his newfound hostility to fuel instability in the region.