Terrorists "squarely" responsible for the deaths of Britons in Algeria could have been carrying British weapons from neighbouring Libya, William Hague admitted yesterday.
The Foreign Secretary was on the defensive following a firefight between Algerian soldiers and the Khaled Abu al-Abbas Brigade, which had taken staff hostage at the BP gas plant. Three Britons and one Colombian-born British resident were among 81 people killed in the battle.
Anti-war activists poured scorn on Mr Hague (left) following speculation the group had bought its weapons from Libya's missing stockpiles of arms supplied by Western nations to rebels two years ago in a bid to overthrow the Gaddafi regime.
Mr Hague admitted to reporters yesterday that terrorists in the region had "taken advantage" of the glut of arms in Libya.
But he insisted violence in the region could have been even worse had Britain and other nations had let the civil war continue without them.
"If the Libyan conflict had gone on for longer, there would have been an even greater flow of weapons and an even greater opportunity for extremists to take hold in Libya," he said.
But Campaign Against the Arms Trade's Kaye Stearman said Mr Hague was "coming up with a counterfactual."
"It's speculative. William Hague is trying to evade responsibility for Britain and the EU selling arms to Libya."
As recently as 2011 Britain's trade officials considered Libya a "priority market" for arms sales, while EU figures showed Britain alone approved £238,608 in small arms to the Gaddafi regime between 2005 and 2009.
France, now embroiled in terrorist conflicts in both Algeria and neighbouring Mali, also signed off on €2.3m (£1.9m) worth of ammunition and fuses in the same period.
Even after Britain imposed a temporary embargo, EU members still approved another €34m (£28.5m) in arms export licences.
Meanwhile the group behind last week's kidnappings threatened further plots against French and other Western nations' Algerian holdings.
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