Libya finds mass grave from 1996 massacre

Sep 25, 2011, 8:22 a.m.
Anti-Gaddafi fighters fire heavy artillery near Sirte, September 25, 2011. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

By Alexander Dziadosz and Sherine El Madany

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - Libya's interim rulers said on Sunday they had found a mass grave containing the bodies of 1,270 inmates killed by Muammar Gaddafi's security forces in a 1996 massacre at a Tripoli prison.

To the east of the capital, NATO bombers hammered the city of Sirte to clear the way for fighters with the National Transitional Council who are trying to capture Gaddafi's hometown.

But Gaddafi loyalists showed they were still a threat by attacking the desert oasis town of Ghadames, on the border with Algeria. The interim government said the attacks had been repulsed but some reports said fighting was still going on.

A spokesman for the Tripoli Military Council said investigators had found the mass grave about two weeks ago.

The uprising that toppled Gaddafi was ignited by protests linked to the Abu Salim massacre. In February, families of inmates killed there in 1996 demonstrated in the eastern city of Benghazi to demand the release of their lawyer.

"We are dealing with more than 1,270 martyrs and must distinguish each one from the other for identification by comparing their DNA with family members," said Dr Osman Abdul Jalil, a medical official. "It may take years to reach the truth."

Human rights groups have estimated that about 2,000 Abu Salim inmates were killed in the 1996 massacre.


Earlier this weekend, the forces of the NTC had pushed to within a few hundred metres of the center of Sirte -- one of the last bastions of pro-Gaddafi resistance in Libya -- but later drew back to let the NATO jets do their work.

"Yesterday our freedom fighters attacked Sirte city from two sides. That doesn't mean that Sirte is free now, but it is an indication that Sirte will be free soon," said Ahmed Bani, NTC military spokesman in Tripoli.

"I'm asking now any militiamen fighting on the side of the tyrant (to realize) that the game is over."

On Sunday, the roar of jet engines could be heard overhead, and sporadic booms when NATO ordnance hit targets on the ground. One strike, giving off a deep thud, released a big cloud of smoke and dust over the south of the city.

"NATO has dropped a lot of bombs today," said one rebel fighter, who declined to give his name. "You can see the planes up above. They struck along here," he said, gesturing with his hand across the area south of the city center.

NATO's support for the anti-Gaddafi rebellion played a major part in toppling Gaddafi and the alliance says it will keep up its operations for as long as needed.

In a statement, the alliance said its sorties on Saturday in the vicinity of Sirte had struck targets including 2 command and control facilities, a military staging area, a storage bunker and radar facility, and 29 armed vehicles.

Taking Sirte would be a huge boost for the NTC as it tries to establish credibility as a government, and a blow for Gaddafi, widely believed to be on the run inside Libya.

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