Revenge killings and reckless firing in opposition-held eastern Libya

A Benghazi poster campaign calls on those with weapons not to shoot in the air recklessly © Amnesty International

By Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s crisis researcher

In the intensive care unit of one of Benghazi’s hospitals I ran into a woman whom I had met some weeks ago in another hospital, where her 5-year-old nephew was undergoing a delicate operation to extract a bullet from his chest. The child had seemingly been the victim of the reckless shooting in the air that goes on all too frequently in Benghazi and elsewhere in eastern Libya.

A few weeks later the child’s uncle suffered a similar accident. He was injured in downtown Benghazi on 5 May along with several other bystanders, one of whom later died of his wounds.

A recent poster campaign organized by a youth group calls on those with weapons not to shoot in the air – an interesting and timely initiative, since the reckless shooting continues to kill and injure.

Such incidents are far more frequent than most care to admit and are generally not talked about or are often reported as attacks by pro-Gaddafi elements – notably al-Gaddafi’s “revolutionary committees” – trying to sow fear and chaos in Benghazi. It is fair to say that there is a state of denial when it comes to the less palatable aspects of the post-17 February situation in eastern Libya – notably the behaviour of some the opposition fighters, the “thuwwar” as they are called here.

In the past two and a half weeks, three men, who until 17 February worked for the once-all-powerful infamous Internal Security Agency (ISA, Jihaz al-Amn al-Dakhili), were killed in chilling summary-execution style attacks. The body of the latest victim, a father of six, was found on 10 May in the south-western outskirts of Benghazi. He had been shot in the head, his hands and feet were bound and a scarf was tightly tied around his neck. He was missing a piece of flesh from his right calf and marks on his trousers indicated that he had been kneeling. A blood-stained note bearing his name was found by the body; it said that “… a dog among Gaddafi’s dogs has been eliminated”.

Another former ISA member, a 48-year-old father of three, had been killed two weeks earlier in virtually the same manner. His body was found in the same area in the evening on 22 April. He had been shot twice in the head, had a scarf tied tightly around his neck, and his hands were tied behind his back with two plastic handcuffs. Marks on his trousers indicated that he had been kneeling.

A blood-stained note found near a man found killed near Benghazi © Amnesty International

In both cases there were no witnesses of the men’s abductions – or if there were, they have understandably kept quiet about it.

In another case, a group of armed men – some of them masked – abducted a 55-year-old father of eight, also a former ISA member, from his home in the evening on 8 May. Needless to say, they did not identify themselves nor did they tell his terrified family why or where they were taking him. The following morning his body was found, also in Benghazi’s south-western outskirts. He too was handcuffed and had been shot in the head and injured on the head and hand with a blunt object.

There are frequent night raids by groups of armed “thuwwar” on the hunt for al-Gaddafi loyalists suspected – rightly or wrongly – of being involved in some way in spying or planning or carrying out attacks, or of having been responsible for the brutal repression which was the hallmark of al-Gaddafi’s rule for the past four decades. Some of these vigilante groups are acting on the orders of so-called “detention committees” in military camps while others are seemingly acting on their own initiative. Sometimes foreign journalists are taken along in these night raids.

Former members of security agencies and al-Gaddafi loyalists are not the only targets. On 23 and 24 April the bodies of two unidentified men, seemingly from Sub-Saharan Africa, were found in Benghazi’s south-western outskirts. One had had his throat cut and his ankles were bound with a rope.  The other had been shot in the head and had sustained multiple contusions, evidence of an assault. These are only the latest such cases. In the days immediately following the overthrow of the al-Gaddafi regime in eastern Libya, several nationals of Sub-Saharan countries were brutally attacked and killed. Some were shot, some were hanged in public, and others were lynched. No investigations are known to have taken place to identify those responsible for these heinous crimes and hold them accountable.

Many African migrants have been the victims of attacks seemingly motivated by suspicions that they served as “mercenaries” with the pro-Gaddafi forces. Widespread but mostly unsubstantiated allegations, including by National Transitional Council officials, that African “mercenaries” had played a key role in the killings and attacks against demonstrators undoubtedly helped to fuel such attacks. Scores of African migrants were detained after 17 February and were repeatedly paraded in front of the world media as “mercenaries” before any investigation was even carried out to establish who they were or whether they had committed any crimes. The overwhelming majority of them were later released and allowed to leave the country when no evidence was found against them, but by then they had been unjustly labelled as “mercenaries”.

So far there is no public debate about these disturbing developments. Officials and political leaders have not come out publicly in condemnation of such killings of al-Gaddafi loyalists and African migrants, nor are these violations discussed on the new (Free Libya) TV and radio stations or in the many new newspapers which have sprung up in the past couple of months.

However, on the positive side, whenever I have raised these issues with officials or ordinary people alike, they have condemned and expressed revulsion at such attacks. Most of those I’ve spoken to seem genuinely concerned that the repression and brutal practices to which so many Libyans have been subjected for the past four decades must not be repeated and that Libya’s future must be built on the rule of law and respect for human rights.

I hope their wish is granted.

Posted in Libya | 7 Comments

  1. Mariam O'Gorman says:

    If what you’ve documented is true, it’s very sad for all involved. However, I have to challenge your statement that claims about the use of mercenaries are “unsubstantiated”. There have undoubtedly been false accusations but are you saying that the following reports have no truth in them?
    http://africadefensejournal.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/libya-gaddafi-and-his-mali-chad-tuareg-mercenaries/
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12647115
    http://www.france24.com/en/20110225-where-do-gaddafi's-mercenaries-come-from-libya-darfur-nigeria# Where there is no proof, it would be better to keep an open mind, rather than make similarly false accusations of our own.

  2. LIBERTY says:

    While I do deplore the acts of a few , first I know that the MAJORITY of Libyans dont want to participate in such atrocities and, second ,Sadly , this kind of “thought process” was instilled by them, from day one , by the leader of their country. He taught Libyans , to think , like he did , to be , like he was , to conform to his way of “dealing with issues” -so In large part , I blame Gaddafi the most for the acts that these individuals have done .It would be foolishness to expect that all that HE indoctrinated into the minds of millions , would be “removed” or erased , overnight , while these people are in the midst of the fight for their lives. All of them , including those in the council , literally have to learn from scratch , what is automatically taught to us in democratic countries . The reality is that if GADDAFI had never been the kind of man that so many Libyans have come to hate, I doubt you would have seen the few incidences of “revenge killings” to day , as they would never have been learned .So please world , dont lump ALL Libyans in the same mold as the few mentioned here . They desperately want to REMOVE that way of thinking. They desperately want a NEW start , with NEW DOCTRINES that teach them about PEACE and COMPASSION and TOLERANCE and RESTRAINT. Please dont give up on ALL Libyans fighting for democracy , and freedom , because of a few whom still resorted to the “old way” or the only way taught to them. Even these, have a chance to be redeemed .Bottom line, these individuals written of in this article whom ever they may be, only carried out what they were forced to see , by their leader and indoctrinated by .

  3. unifiedleft says:

    It seems that a small group of people that are trying to get power are murdering a small group of people that used to murder people to keep power. Plus some racist violence against black folks. The left needs to unify in order to activate the masses of people who play no role on either side of this murderous conflict. #UnifiedLeft

  4. Greg Fletcher says:

    It is always interesting that in all such ‘uprisings’ there is always retaliations – the same is happening in Egypt, Tunisia, the Yemen etc. Israelia and Palestineans do it. Why do have to sink as low – one might as well not change a regime if one is going be as bad the ‘oppressor’!

  5. Christopher says:

    Finally the truth is coming out, in very slow portions. The rebels have been beheading, executing black Libyans, and raping women and children in Benghazi. There are Al Qaida members training them militarily, the ones who were released from Guantanamo Bay and Gaddafi accepted them, since then Gaddafi was fighting with them in Eastern Libya.
    The atrocities committed by the rebels (who are not a unified group, but unified in their demand for neo liberal economy and privatisation)only last week a French delegate was killed in Benghazi by rebels “accidentally”, other 5 Frenchman are detained by rebels.The corporate media in UK (BBC, ITN and even CH4) never ever mention these atrocities, but actively distort truth for rebel propaganda. The first casualty of Libyan attack was the truth! Libyan civil war has no resemblance to the uprisings in other ME countries, which were against neo liberal economies which impoverished them, and they were unarmed peaceful genuine demonstrations; whereas in Libya they were armed from day one (armed by the west, CIA; check Khalifa Hefter for instance, CIA’s man)and trying to bring a neoliberal economy, amongst other ills. So, these rebels should not be supported at all, and we must all demand an end to the bloodshed in Libya. If it wasnt for NATO providing air force for the rebels, it would be over long time ago. We are guilty for the bloodshed there- time to stop interfering before it is too late.

  6. mazhar mehboob says:

    Yes,in these days many countries facing similar kind of problems.But one thing notable that there are countries whose crowed seems to be in peace but actually facing a lot of problems.They suffered a lot because of the government fucking policies.

  7. Khalid says:

    It is sad to see people try to excuse or defend the Benghazi branch of the KKK. Benghazi’s race problem is nothing new. There were race riots just ten years ago, and others in the ’90s fueled by the same BS we heard about in the US during the 20th century. What’s worse is how these presumed advocates of democracy boastfully record and publish their lynch parties on the web. Sick people. Here’s a story covering the race riots in 2000:
    http://www.economist.com/node/392844/print?story_id=392844

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