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Libya: last act of bloody vengeance by Khamis Brigade

As they fought their final battle for their capital, the Khamis Brigade had time for one last act of vengeance.


Over the last months, right up until last week, people from across Libya have disappeared into their clutches.

Other, lesser units might release their prisoners as they faced defeat, but not the 32 Brigade, the nation’s most feared militia, loyal to Khamis Gaddafi.

Some 18 were taken a couple of hundred yards down a dried river bed opposite the Brigade’s grey-walled Headquarters on the southern outskirts of Tripoli.

There, on Saturday night, The Daily Telegraph found their decomposing corpses. Several still had their hands tied behind their backs.

Blackened by the summer heat, and maggot-infested, a team of silent volunteers rolled them into yellow plastic body-bags with as much dignity as they could muster. Alerted by Tripoli’s grapevine, relatives showed up, somehow able to recognise the missing.

Mohammed Aweidat owned a nearby water bottling factory, his brother, Nasser, said, holding out his hands in puzzlement and shock over the body. He disappeared just last Wednesday when he drove from across Tripoli at the request of a hospital which was running low on supplies.

This act of generosity turned out to be a fatal error.

“I have been looking for him for three days,” Mr Aweidat, a doctor, said. “I asked everywhere. I found him here.”

The family believe he was killed for his car, perhaps as a means of escape.

All over this district, sites of death are being discovered. Less than a mile away, local people found evidence – if that is not too mild a word – of the most clear-cut war crime of this six-month uprising.

Inside a corrugated iron farm shed on Brigade land near the barracks lay a singular scene in black and white: the white the staring skulls and skeletons of 53 men imprisoned here for weeks and months, deprived of food and water, occasionally strung up in a corner and beaten.

The black was the cinders of the fire which the Brigade had tried half-heartedly to dispose of them, after first chucking in grenades and machine gunning them.

Some ran away – bodies were also found shot nearby – and some even reached safety. It was one of these who first alerted my colleague Andrew Gilligan to what had happened last week.

Abdulatti Musbah Haleem was wounded but managed to escape the conflagration.

Abdulhakim Khadifa Kabir might have tried the same, his brother Khaled said, but he was almost certainly too sick to make the attempt.

He was seized at a roadblock on June 18. From a released detainee, he knew his brother was still alive 20 days ago, but very weak.

More and more were being crammed in. By the end there were 150 people there, baking through the summer in a shed 30 feet by 50 feet in size, with no sanitation or water.

Where the rest of the bodies are, no one knows.

Mr Kabir believed his brother’s only crime was to come from Souq al-Jumaa, a rebellious suburb which was one of the first areas to rise up.

The shed’s inmates were certainly a motley collection. Mr Kabir was a casual labourer. Tucked in alongside him was a judge, Abdul Hadi Abusheiwa, arrested in May because of his ties to Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council.

He was released in July, but had returned to see what happened afterwards.

He pointed to the corner where inmates had been strung up to be whipped.

There was little attempt to cover up this atrocity. Perhaps Khamis and his men no longer cared. Residents nearby heard the shooting and explosions, last Tuesday evening, though it was not until Saturday morning that the fighting died down enough for the horror to be discovered.

The skeletons were still smouldering. Empty petrol canisters lay among the bodies, and the steel doors were full of bullet-holes.

What was the need for this act? The men could have posed no threat. But the Khamis Brigade was always set apart from society.

The headquarters nearby hovers in bare grey concrete over the neighbourhood, its monumental entrance topped by a huge eagle.

Locals say it was an attempt to mimic Bab al-Aziziya, Khamis’s father’s compound. The Brigade was a political as well as military fiefdom, Khamis’s personal electorate in the battles staged by the brothers for the role of favourite and heir apparent.

Regime insiders always insisted it was Khamis, and not the better-known Saif al-Islam, who was likely to succeed.

His personal palace also gave witness to that. It was still being built inside the compound, in cheap imitation neoclassical style, all white columns and apricot walls.

“This was the seat of fear,” said Ahmed Ben Hadir, 22, one of the new rebel sentries.

Not much to fear now though: the bully was thoroughly bullied himself, the palace and most of the rest of the compound reduced to rubble by a few well-placed Nato bombs. The palace balustrades swung limply on Sunday.

On Sunday night, there were reports that Khamis, 28, had been killed south-east of Tripoli. He has been killed several times in this war, however. He is certainly as brave as his men, and was seen regularly near the front line.

It is not clear, though, how brave that was, once the advantage in weaponry was balanced out.

For when the end came, the brigade ran away. “There was not much resistance,” said Majid al-Fitouri, one of the rebels who swept into the barracks on Friday night. The defenders fled towards the airport, and then into the heat haze.

The residents came out of their houses, and found the shed. The words “charnel house” have become a cliché of death; but on this occasion, there is no more accurate description.

Filed in: World News

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