x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Mass grave of 1,270 prisoners killed by Qaddafi in 1996 uncovered

As NTC fighters establish positions around Sirte, to the west, Qaddafi loyalists kill six people in an attack after crossing the Algerian border.

Anti-Qaddafi fighters fire heavy artillery near Sirte yesterday. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters
Anti-Qaddafi fighters fire heavy artillery near Sirte yesterday. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

TRIPOLI // Libyan transitional government authorities say they have discovered a mass grave containing the remains of 1,270 inmates killed by the regime of Muammar Qaddafi in a 1996 prison massacre.

The site was found near Tripoli's Abu Salim prison, where the victims were killed on June 26, 1996, after protesting about conditions at the facility.

The announcement was made yesterday by Dr Ibrahim Abu Sahima of the National Transitional Council (NTC) committee overseeing the search for victims of the former regime. He said investigators found the grave two weeks ago after getting information from captured regime officials and witnesses.

Officials will ask for international assistance in identifying the remains.

Meanwhile, gunmen loyal to Colonel Qaddafi have crossed the Libyan border from Algeria and attacked NTC forces in a town near the frontier, killing six people, officials said yesterday.

The cross-border attack on Saturday shows loyalist forces have managed to escape Libya and regroup and collect arms.

Colonel Ahmed Bani, a military spokesman for the NTC government, said the attack on Ghadamis occurred on Saturday but NTC forces had intelligence that cars filled with weapons had crossed the border a few days earlier. Ghadamis is about 450 kilometres south-west of Tripoli.

He said the loyalist forces were believed to belong to a unit that had been under the command of Col Qaddafi's son Khamis, who was reportedly killed in fighting before NTC forces seized Tripoli.

Col Bani said NTC forces had repelled the attack but the assailants escaped back across the border.

An official from Ghadamis, Ali Al Mana, however, said fighting was still going on. He said six people had been killed and 63 wounded.

"We are sending a plane from Tripoli to evacuate the wounded," said Mr Al Mana, who is the Ghadamis representative on the National Transitional Council. He said Ghadamis has a small runway for the plane to land.

Colonel Qaddafi's wife and three of his children, including his daughter Aisha, fled to Algeria through Ghadamis after Tripoli's fall last month. Col Qaddafi's whereabouts remain unknown and he continues to try to rally supporters.

That has raised concern that he could stoke violence as fighting continues between LTC forces in his hometown of Sirte and two other strongholds.

Aisha Qaddafi, who played a key role in her father's inner circle, said in an audio recording broadcast Friday that her father is in high spirits and fighting alongside his supporters. She called the country's new leaders traitors, noting that some of them were members of Col Qaddafi's regime before defecting in the uprising.

In other developments yesterday, NTC fighters stepped up a siege of Sirte, hoping to wear down loyalist forces a day after an offensive failed to dislodge loyalists.

Anti-Qaddafi fighters set up new checkpoints and posted snipers in strategic areas on the outskirts of Sirte. But they said they were not planning another assault immediately after facing fierce resistance on Saturday that left seven of their comrades dead and more than 150 wounded.

"It's unlikely we'll attack today unless we are attacked," said Aiman Majub, who helps coordinate NTC forces. "The idea is to catch our breath and regroup so we can be more strategic instead of blasting our way in."

Saturday's battle for downtown Sirte was the first significant push in a week and included close-range gunfights with loyalists hiding in apartment buildings and throwing hand grenades from windows. The fighters pushed east along the city's main thoroughfare into its centre, overrunning a TV station as Nato warplanes roared overhead.

Osama Nuttawa Al Swehli, an NTC logistics officer, said the goal yesterday was to squeeze the city and prevent former regime figures believed to be holed up inside from escaping. Mr Al Swehli said he has heard Col Qaddafi's son Muatassim communicating by radio with loyalist forces inside Sirte.