Mass Graves Stir Anger as Libya Seeks an Elusive Peace

TARHUNA, Libya—In August, Hakim Naama heard the information he had feared since his brother, Abu Bakr, vanished whereas driving house one evening in 2019.

DNA testing had recognized him as one in all 228 our bodies unearthed by Libyan authorities from the fields round Tarhuna, a small city in western Libya south of the capital, Tripoli. He had been blindfolded and shot a number of instances within the again and face, in accordance with Mr. Hakim and a United Nations human-rights panel.

On the time of Abu Bakr’s disappearance, a militia led by two Libyan brothers, Mohamed and Abdulrahman al-Kani, managed Tarhuna. The pair had constructed the militia to grab the city throughout the chaos that followed the autumn of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, and later allied themselves with Russian-backed warlord

Khalifa Haftar

when he started his try to take the capital in 2019.

Residents and U.N. investigators say their group, often called the Kaniyat, started rounding up residents and finishing up extrajudicial executions as a way of suppressing opposition to their rule. They mentioned the killings accelerated throughout Mr. Haftar’s 14-month siege of Tripoli, when Tarhuna was used as a staging put up within the civil warfare.

Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar’s offensive to take the capital stalled in early 2020.


esam omran al-fetori/Reuters

Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates supplied arms to Mr. Haftar, whereas Turkey’s army help helped the Tripoli authorities roll again the offensive. An estimated 2,000 folks died earlier than the warring sides signed a U.N.-brokered cease-fire last year.

“I had nightmares each evening. I used to be dreaming of my brother,” Mr. Naama mentioned.

The Worldwide Legal Courtroom has launched an investigation into the killings, however has but to subject indictments. The U.S., European Union and U.Ok. imposed sanctions on the leaders of the Kaniyat, together with the Kani brothers, over the killings in Tarhuna.

Finding the killers and bringing them to account, rights advocates say, may assist decide whether or not Libya consolidates its fragile peace course of, or slides again right into a cycle of violence.

The political hurdles are appreciable. Mr. Haftar himself is a possible candidate in Libya’s nationwide elections, scheduled for December. The Kanis have been additionally as soon as allied to the federal government in Tripoli, which has portrayed the killings as Mr. Haftar’s duty.

An imprint of a human physique lies on the backside of a mass grave in Tarhuna.


Jared Malsin/The Wall Road Journal

“All people’s responsible,” mentioned Jalel Harchaoui, a senior fellow on the International Initiative In opposition to Transnational Organized Crime who has studied the Tarhuna killings.

Subsequent to the highway from Tarhuna to Tripoli, in a area lined with tall pines, staff with shovels choose day-after-day on the reddish clay, leaving pockmarks as they probe the bottom for our bodies as part of an investigation led by Libyan prosecutors in Tripoli. Almost each week, they discover extra human stays. In accordance with Human Rights Watch, not less than 338 folks have been reported lacking from Tarhuna, inhabitants 40,000, since 2014.

“This man was killed on this gap. They discovered him in his flip flops,” mentioned Atef Fanun, a 35-year-old police officer standing guard at one of many excavation websites just lately, peering into one of many holes.

On the backside of one other gap was a shriveled mass of soiled garments and the imprint of a physique within the clay. In one other grave lay the define of one other grownup physique, the arms out to the perimeters forming the form of a cross. Close by, one other grave had the imprinted marks of 9 folks’s our bodies, all buried in row. The scent of decomposing our bodies hung within the air.

Kinfolk mourn family members who have been present in a mass grave in Tarhuna.


Nada Harib/Getty Pictures

The Kani brothers exercised nearly whole management in Tarhuna, residents and investigators say. They aligned themselves with whoever they thought would strengthen their management, swinging from the federal government in Tripoli to Mr. Haftar’s forces because the political winds shifted, in accordance with residents. To amuse themselves, the brothers stored lions as pets.

The worst purges got here as Mr. Haftar’s offensive stalled in early 2020, victims’ households say, simply earlier than he withdrew his forces from the world encircling Tripoli.

“They have been making an attempt to erase the entire household so nobody would come after them sooner or later,” mentioned Hammouda al-Hamali, a former resident of Tarhuna who misplaced 14 family members within the killings after relations turned in opposition to the Kaniyat.

Mr. Hamali mentioned his 80-year-old brother and two nephews, each of their 40s, disappeared in June 2020 and have been discovered within the mass graves later that yr. He recognized his brother by a fraction of clothes, a black-and-white striped rope.

Members of the Kani household and the Kaniyat couldn’t be reached for remark.

A defaced mural reveals the face of militia chief Mohamed al-Kani.


Jared Malsin/The Wall Road Journal

Now figuring out his brother’s destiny, Mr. Naama is looking for justice. He leads an affiliation of victims’ households lobbying Libyan authorities and international governments to deliver the killers to account. Prosecutors in Tripoli have opened an investigation into the killings and issued arrest warrants for the Kanis and different members of their group, who fled to japanese Libya with Mr. Haftar’s forces in June 2020.

Victims’ households and human-rights teams accuse Mr. Haftar of defending militias, together with the Kaniyat. His group has condemned the killings however has claimed with out presenting any proof that they occurred when the militia was allied with the Tripoli authorities.

No arrests have been made, although there was not less than one try to serve an arrest warrant, in accordance with police in japanese Libya. One of many Kani brothers, Mohamed al-Kani, was killed in an alternate of fireside with police, officers mentioned.

His demise didn’t fulfill Mr. Naama.

“We don’t need revenge. We wish justice by way of the legislation,” he mentioned.

The rubble of a constructing that was broken when forces loyal to Mr. Haftar shelled the neighborhood of Znatah, Tripoli.


mahmud turkia/Agence France-Presse/Getty Pictures

Write to Jared Malsin at [email protected]

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Mass Graves Stir Anger as Libya Seeks an Elusive Peace Source link Mass Graves Stir Anger as Libya Seeks an Elusive Peace

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