Some 20,000 missiles have gone missing in Libya, ABC News reported Tuesday, raising fears that they have fallen into the wrong hands in an unstable region.
ABC News' Brian Ross reported that the disappearance of the weapons from unguarded warehouses was made public at a recent White House meeting.
But Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for Human Rights Watch, warned about the thefts six months ago, ABC said. On one recent trip to Libya he even took pictures of missiles being driven away in trucks.
"I myself could have removed several hundred if I wanted to, and people can literally drive up with pickup tricks or even 18-wheelers and take away whatever they want," Bouckaert said.
The missing weapons are an estimated 20,000 Russian-made portable heat-seeking missiles, ABC reported. They reportedly weigh only 55 pounds and have a range of two miles.
"Matching up a terrorist with a shoulder-fired missile, that's our worst nightmare," Democratic California Senator Barbara Boxer said.
Boxer, a member of the Senate's Commerce, Energy and Transportation Committee, was planning to ask the Department of Defense on Tuesday to equip 500 American passenger jets that fly overseas with new technology that repels heat-seeking missiles from aircraft, ABC reported.
The technology would give civilian planes the same protection that military aircraft have.
Human Rights Watch's Bouckaert, who has been searching Tripoli for abandoned weapons for months, told The Associated Press last month that a number of weapons warehouses were poorly guarded and appeared to have been heavily looted.
"The problem is that the locals usually find out first and by the time we arrive and we can get some guards there, a lot of the most dangerous weapons have already been taken away," he said.