Libya Buries 159 Bodies Found In Mass Grave

Published March 5, 2012 4:09PM (EST)

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Thousands of mourners gathered Monday in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi to bury 155 bodies unearthed from a mass grave of people were killed during last year's civil war.

It was the largest grave yet to be discovered from the conflict that began as a popular uprising and ended with the capture and killing of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi last October.

It illustrated how Libya is struggling to recover from the 10-month civil war that left the nation with weak governing institutions, squabbling tribes, rival regions and many armed militias.

The grave was found in the eastern town of Bin Jawwad, a major battleground during the civil war.

Four other bodies from the mass grave were delivered on Monday to relatives for burial in the northern coastal city of Ajdabiya, between Bin Jawwad and Benghazi.

A traditional Islamic prayer service was held in Benghazi after the 23 trucks transported the wooden coffins, which were draped in the tri-colored Libyan flag.

Thousands chanted "God is great" and held pictures of the deceased, while others waved Libyan flags.

Some women fainted when the bodies arrived in Benghazi, which was briefly the capital of the opposition fighting Gadhafi's forces.

The government says that 80 of the bodies discovered in Bin Jawwad have been identified, and that all were from eastern Libya. The youngest was a 17-year-old male. Experts are trying to identify the rest from DNA samples.

Forensic specialists with the government say most appear to have died from gunshot wounds and rocket strikes starting in March. Some were executed, while others were severely disfigured from rocket attacks, they said.

Benghazi resident Maher al-Maghrabi said the body of his 23 year-old brother, who was a rebel fighter, was among those found in the mass grave.

He expressed anger at Libya's new leaders for taking nearly three months to excavate the bodies from the mass grave, which was first discovered in December. The Ministry of Martyrs, Wounded and Missing Persons began digging up the bodies on Friday.

"They knew about this grave, and they should have worked quicker to excavate the bodies," he said. "This is unacceptable."

The ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.

Al-Maghrabi said he saw a video filmed on a mobile phone of Gadhafi's men killing his brother in late March. He said one soldier filmed the execution while another beat his brother with the butt of an automatic rifle and tried to force him to shout "Long live Gadhafi."

The video, which could not be independently verified, showed the young man refusing to praise the Libyan dictator and instead yelling "There is not God but Allah."

He was then shot in the head and the leg from close range.

Nearly five months after the civil war ended, the country's new government is struggling to rebuild a national security force, unify the country's militias and tribes under its authority, and ready the country's justice system to handle cases of those accused of war crimes, including Gadhafi's son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam.

In the capital Tripoli, the head of a Libyan militia holding two British nationals captive accused them of spying on government facilities and entering the country illegally.

Farah Swehli, who commands the Misrata-based Saraya Swehli militia, said late Sunday in announcing the allegations that his men must protect the country because the government is unable to do so.

The two British men and their Libyan driver were captured in Tripoli Feb. 21 by the Saraya Swehli militia. They were freelancers with the Iranian state-owned Press TV.

Human Rights Watch said its staff was denied access to the detainees last month, despite authorization from the Libyan Interior Ministry.

By Salon Staff

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