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A vessel at large of the Libyan coast – Source : flickr

Open source research can help document Turkey’s multiple violations of the Libyan arms embargo.

OpenFacto has been following the conflict in Libya for several months, monitoring open source information and databases. We have specifically focused on the military support provided by several international actors to local armed factions, which is contrary to the resolution passed by the UN Security Council in 2011. This guide focuses on Turkey and its multiple violations of the arms embargo in Libya. Through six case studies, we will show how open sources can be used to identify and document Turkey’s failure to comply with the Security Council resolution, ultimately contributing and aggravating the conflict. In this article we show the methodology for:

  • Identification of ships and planes used for arms deliveries through cross-checking of reports, social networks and the study of traffic to Libyan ports from Turkey and airports.
  • Identification of arms delivery networks or mercenaries linked to arms shipping, terrorist groups and business interests
  • Identification of the Turkish industrials who manufactured the weapons.
  • Identification of the GNA as recipients of the arms (supported by Turkey in the conflict)

Using these methods, we have identified multiple examples that taken together point to a state strategy of concerted support to the Libyan conflict.


Click on the links inserted in the images to discover the different investigations.

Through these six cases, this guide proposes below a methodology for monitoring and documenting violations of arms embargoes using open-sources.

A methodology for open source monitoring of arms embargoes

The arms embargo regime is a restriction and/or a series of sanctions that apply to arms in the broadest sense but also to so-called « dual-use » technologies (understood to mean both civilian and military). Arms embargoes can have a political, military objective and be a peacekeeping mechanism. It is important to understand what the arms embargo covers in the selected case study of Libya.
In Libya, the arms embargo regime prohibits the sale or supply of « arms and related materiel of all types: arms and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment and matching spare parts, and prohibits the export by Libya of all arms and related materiel » according to Security Council resolution 1970 (2011) of the Libya Committee.
When seeking to identify violations of the embargo by a State actor or otherwise, the main challenge is identifying and establishing the complex system of transactions, purchasing and delivery channels, that are in essence as secretive as possible. In order to be efficient and to try to direct your monitoring and research effectively, we propose a focus on three nodes: the actors involved, the equipment and the delivery circuit.

Detecting embargoes

  • The implementation of an arms embargo or sanctions is decided by the UN Security Council or other state actors such as the European Union. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute lists them and refers to the official documents instituting the implementation of embargoes.
  • The UN Security Council establishes an embargo monitoring committee by resolution. This committee, made up of a panel of experts, regularly produces very informative reports on the conditions of compliance or violations of the embargo. These reports are a veritable mine of information that focus precisely on the entities or logistical means that make up the circumvention circuit.

Actors involved

  • A good understanding of the conflict in an embargoed country makes it possible to map the local forces involved, and their known or potential international allies. It is important to understand from which international actor factions will seek support in order to identify the potential supplier/buyer relationship that can be established. It’s time to set up your tweetdeck with lists to keep track of news and subject-matter experts on your topic of interest.
  • To witness the material used by the local armed group, social networks are your best friends! Photos or videos of material that has arrived at its destination can be collected via postings by an armed group’s communication organs, or through the social media accounts of members. These can provide proof of the material’s journey from one point to another:
    • follow the pages of the various factions’ media outlets on social networks: Facebook, Telegram, Instagram…
    • follow the pages of social networks dedicated to armed groups or warlords.
    • follow local newspapers that support different factions online to retrieve the images


  • SIPRI provides several databases that give an idea of the volumes of arms exported by certain countries. In the case of clandestine activity such as the violation of an embargo, the figures will not necessarily be there, but some indications may attract attention.
  • Specialised maritime information sites regularly post news about maritime seizures of illegal goods or arms: the ports and names of ships are mentioned.
  • Some organizations specializing in arms trafficking research publish guides to identifying some weapons: Small Arms Survey, Conflict Armement Research and iTrace portal.
  • Some tweeters always ready to help: @CalibreObscura, @ArmoryBazaar, @AbraxasSpa, @Silah_Report, etc…
  • Via the videos and images posted online: identify the material but also the quantities where possible.

Delivery routes

  • Circumvention of embargoes is carried out by logistics companies that care little for UN Council resolutions, often by falsifying export documents. It is therefore necessary to identify the ships or aircraft by which the arms are transported and the companies involved.
  • The study of the movements of ships and aircraft, as well as of the country’s embargoed ports, makes it possible to identify the means of transport used to carry the weapons. The basic tools are:
    Marine Traffic, Vessels Finder
    Flight radar
    Equasis an interesting ship-related database which makes it possible to identify ownership.
  • Once in possession of the company’s name, it is necessary to search corporate registration databases and to check the company’s reputation: presence on lists, jurisdictions, other vessels or aircraft conducting questionable deliveries, affiliations of directors.
    OCCRP large database
    OpenCorporate, tvery interesting for companies in Panama…
    ICIJ leaks-based database
  • Websites like Panjiva or may sometimes show the company sending or receiving shipment on behalf of the sender or the final recipient (as a consignee): this sometimes makes it possible to identify an intermediary in the armament supply network and identify volumes.

Finally, it is necessary to cross-check and compile all the findings to see the recurrence of this type of over a certain period of time.

Additionnal ressources to go further on the other side of the Libyan conflict