Mass grave of prisoners found in Libya
More than 1,200 were killed after 1996 uprising
TRIPOLI, Libya - Libyan officials said yesterday that they have found the site of a mass grave believed to hold the remains of more than 1,200 prisoners killed by Moammar Khadafy’s regime after a 1996 prison uprising.
Officials learned the site of the massacre after capturing former security guards who revealed its location, as well as receiving witness accounts.
Excavation has not begun in the desert field outside the white walls of the notorious Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, although several bone fragments and pieces of clothing have been found in the topsoil.
Soldiers and relatives sifted through the sand during a visit yesterday, displaying a pair of pants and other remains for reporters brought to the site.
A military spokesman and members of a committee tasked with finding mass graves said they were confident the field holds the remains of the prison massacre victims, based on information from former regime officials who have been captured in the fight against the authoritarian leader.
In a separate development yesterday, officials said gunmen loyal to Khadafy have crossed the Libyan border from Algeria and attacked revolutionary forces in Ghadamis, a town near the frontier, killing six people.
The cross-border attack on Saturday shows loyalist forces have managed to escape Libya and regroup and collect arms, bolstering fears the North African nation could face a protracted insurgency.
Colonel Ahmed Bani, a military spokesman for the transitional government, said that the attack on Ghadamis occurred Saturday but that cars filled with weapons had crossed the border a few days earlier. Ghadamis is about 280 miles southwest of Tripoli.
Bani said the loyalist forces were believed to belong to a unit that had been under the command of Khadafy’s son Khamis, who was reportedly killed in fighting before the revolutionary forces seized Tripoli.
Bani said revolutionary forces had repelled the attack, but the assailants escaped back across the border. However, Ali al-Mana, an official from Ghadamis, said fighting was ongoing. He said six people had been killed and 63 wounded.
The discovery of the mass grave has enormous symbolic importance for Libyans who are seeking justice for more than four decades of repression and crimes at the hands of the regime.
It was a demonstration in the eastern city of Benghazi demanding the release of a prominent lawyer representing the families of slain inmates that sparked the revolution in mid-February. Inspired by the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab world, unrest spread and Khadafy was forced into hiding after revolutionary forces swept into Tripoli in late August.
The June 26, 1996, killings became a focal point for opposition to Khadafy, who waged fierce crackdowns against any sign of dissent. Most of the inmates were political prisoners.