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Inside The Libyan Rebel Garage: Churning Out Homemade Weapons

For now, the Western coalition has focused on air support for Libyan rebels rather than arms supplies. So beleaguered anti-Gaddafi forces have resorted to constructing their own weapons. Here's how.

(Al Jazeera)
(Al Jazeera)
Guido Ruotolo

BEIDA - Their eyes are smiling. The calculations were correct and the missile sank into the sea, five kilometers (3.1 miles) from shore. It has been an unforgettable day for the Benghazi rebels. Hopefully it will not be needed, but the mere fact that they have created a missile launcher that can fire its deadly load up to 21.4 km (13.2 miles) away has boosted morale. Over the past four days, they have built ten, and now the rebels' military strategists will have to decide whether to position the missiles as defenses for Benghazi, or to use them on the battlefield.

In a warehouse on the outskirts of Beida, a city a few hours by car from Benghazi, master locksmith "Colonel Smith" is at work. The warehouse has been transformed into a weapons factory. Colonel Smith and Omar, an electrician, are proud of their work because the test-run of the prototype they invented was a great success. They have created this arsenal of sophisticated weapons with recycled material.

Their creation is a "light" missile launcher with a range of 21.4 kilometers, mounted on a pickup truck so it can be transported easily. Colonel Smith (a nickname taken from one of the protagonists of the A-Team television series) proudly shows off his recently-finished prototype: a pickup on which he has mounted the base of a machine gun and four three-meter long tubes capable of firing ammunition. Omar the electrician explains how he invented a system of connecting tubes with a manual switch, as a substitute for sophisticated computers, to launch the missiles singly or in succession.

"This battery is from 1975," Colonel Smith explains. "It is capable of launching its missiles in 20 seconds. In a situation of close combat, such as urban guerrilla warfare, it is complicated to move a heavy truck. By building an agile firing point like a modified pick-up truck, you can move the vehicle quickly once the missiles have been launched to avoid becoming an enemy target.

"Colonel Smith" is not some type of Libyan Rambo. He has a relaxed air, a beard and wears mechanics overalls. The production line, consisting of eight welders for four pick-ups at a time, only stops at prayer time. Muammed is the driver of the pick-up, and demonstrates its features. It is armored, weighs four tons and has three self-defense systems. "It emits smoke," Muammad explains, "gives an electric shock to anyone who approaches it, and shoots nails on the road."

Listening to the rebels talk, it could be one of James Bond's cars. Gaddafi used it in the past to suppress demonstrations, for example in Derna, "where they followed, ran down and killed two protestors." In the space of four days, Colonel Smith has delivered his first ten light missile launchers. He is proud of his work. Now he's waiting for the Libyan National Council, the interim self-governing organism of liberated Libya, to answer that ever important tactical question: position the prized new hardware to defend Benghazi, or take them to the frontline?

photo - (Al Jazeera)

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Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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