Hunted: A first-hand account of Gaddafi’s desperate last days
Posted by Max Fisher on
October 17, 2012
Aug. 28, 2011,
Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi and two of his sons fled the capital city of ,
which after months of bitter fighting was finally succumbing to rebel advances.
One of his sons, Khamis, was killed within a day, possibly by a NATO airstrike.
Another, Saif al-Islam, made it to the town of Tripoli ,
but in November fell into rebel hands. Moammar Gaddafi, who had ruled Bani Walid
for more than four decades, set out east for Sirte, his hometown. He had less
than two months to live. Libya
Gaddafi’s final days are detailed in a new report from Human Rights Watch, which painstakingly reconstructs his movements — and those of the citizen militia that captured and executed him — over his final weeks. At many points, the story rests on the account of loyalist fighters who were with him and sometimes on the recollection of a single associate whose information is difficult or impossible to verify, but it is so far the most complete account we have of the final days of the “mad dog of the Middle East.”
Gaddafi arrived in Sirte, a town of about 75,000 on the Mediterranean coast, accompanied by a personal driver, a small contingent of bodyguards and a state security official named Mansour Dhao. He moved into the apartment blocks in the small downtown area. There, he received two of his regime’s most notorious officials to discuss the ongoing civil war, which he was losing badly. The first, intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi, initially traveled with Gaddafi but later left to inform his wife that their son had been killed in fighting, which may have saved his life. The second, infamously cruel Gaddafi son Mutassim, was nominally commanding Sirte’s defenses and visited his father regularly.
As the rebels’ shelling of Sirte increased and as fighting moved into the city center, Gaddafi decided to move to a more sparsely populated neighborhood at the western edge of town. Bunkered down and wary of exposing themselves, Gaddafi and his bodyguards moved between abandoned homes, struggling to find a reliable source of food. The long-time dictator, who had siphoned off billions of dollars of oil wealth for his personal use, and his guards scrounged through the cupboards of empty houses for pasta and rice. Many of the water tanks had been damaged in fighting, making drinking water difficult to find.
For weeks, Gaddafi “spent most of his time reading the Koran and praying,” Dhao, the security official, later told Human Rights Watch. “There was no communication, no television, nothing.” They had a satellite phone they would use to call people who had access to a television and would narrate the news to them. “We had no duties, we were just between sleeping and being awake,” Dhao recalled. “Nothing to do.” They moved every four or five days, fearing their location would be discovered. Either to avoid raising suspicion or because it was all they had, they used only one two cars when moving, ferrying Gaddafi and his contingent over multiple trips.
As their hiding wore on, Dhao said, Gaddafi “changed,” “becoming more and more angry. Mostly he was angry about the lack of electricity, communications and television, his inability to communicate to the outside world. We would go see him and sit with him for an hour or so to speak with him, and he would ask, “Why is there no electricity? Why is there no water?”
The neighborhood turned into a sort of loyalist enclave, guarded by militias who also took over a local hospital and turned it into a sort of field clinic for wounded fighters from the area. The concentrating loyalist fighters drew more fire from the rebels, who sent artillery shells and Grad missiles into the neighborhood.
On Oct. 19, an increasingly worried Mutassim Gaddafi brought a plan to his father: they would flee Sirte, breaking through the line of rebels laying siege to the city. The old man agreed. Late that night, Gaddafi’s small bodyguard corps began loading the neighborhood’s few remaining residents and the clinic’s wounded into a convoy of about 50 vehicles, mostly four-by-four pickups. The trucks were loaded up with weapons, some with machine guns or anti-aircraft guns mounted on the back.
Mutassim Gaddafi planned to push out at or But organizing the convoy took longer than he’d anticipated. There weren’t ready until , by which time many rebel militias had returned to their positions and the flat desert plain was brightly lit. It’s not clear why Mutassim Gaddafi and his father went ahead with their plan, though the conditions could not have been worse. Maybe they believed they could not wait until the following evening, maybe they didn’t want to lose their momentum, or maybe they were just desperate. They pushed out to the west, through abandoned neighborhoods along the coast.
Rebels came onto the lumbering convoy almost immediately, bogging it down in the small neighborhood streets. The trucks came to an open road and turned south; it’s not clear if this was always the plan, or if they diverted to avoid the rebels. Almost immediately, a missile landed next to Gaddafi’s car. The blast was so powerful that the car’s airbags inflated, according to Dhao, who also took shrapnel from the explosion.
Apparently panicked, the convey turned west again, back into the neighborhoods streets. Before long, they ran directly into an ad hoc base of rebel militias. The rebels were from Misrata, a city that Gaddafi’s forces had besieged for weeks, lobbing cluster bombs into densely populated neighborhoods, turning it into what more than one resident called “a hell.” The convoy attacked the rebels head on, another tactical mistake as they quickly became pinned down. NATO fighter jets dropped two “PAVEWAY” laser-guided bombs, each 500-pounds, raining the convoy with shrapnel and setting off a series of explosions as the munition-loaded trucks caught fire.
Gaddafi, his son Mutassim, his defense minister, and a personal bodyguard contingent climbed off the road into an abandoned home, where rebels followed them. “We found Moammar there, wearing a helmet and a bullet-proof vest. He had a handgun in his pocket and was carrying an automatic weapon,” recalled the defense minister’s son, who scrambled to protect the leader. Mutassim Gaddafi led a contingent of about 10 fighters to try to reopen the road, telling his father, “I will try to find a way out of here.” He was quickly captured and, within hours, executed.
“Then the villa started being shelled so we ran out of there,” the defense minister’s son remembered. “There were a lot of cement construction blocks outside and we hid among those, with the families and the guards.” Qaddafi and about 10 others sprinted across an open field to a drainage pipe that ran under the road. They hunched down and crawled through it, but rebels spotted them “almost immediately” when they emerged, witnesses told Human Rights Watch.
In the battle that followed, one of Gaddafi’s bodyguards attempted to throw several grenades at the rebels, one of which bounced off a concrete wall and landed near Gaddafi. The bodyguard leaned over to retrieve the grenade when it exploded, taking off his arm and wounding both Gaddafi and the defense minister. “I ran towards my father, but he didn’t answer when I asked him if he was okay,” the minister’s son said. “I saw Moammar bleeding,” apparently from a head wound. The bodyguard contingent collapsed.
The rebels quickly descended from the road, where many later said they were shocked to find the dazed Gaddafi. The rebel contingent quickly turned into a mob, surrounding and beating their former dictator, pulling his hair. One stabbed Gaddafi in the anus with a bayonet. “It was a violent scene, he was put on the front of a pickup truck that tried to drive him away, and he fell off,” a rebel commander told Human Rights Watch. “We understood that their needed to be a trial, but we couldn’t control everyone, some acted beyond our control.”
What happened next is not clear. A phone video of the scene appeared to show, according to Human Rights Watch, “Gaddafi’s nearly naked and apparently lifeless body being loaded into an ambulance, suggesting that he may have been dead by the time he left his area of capture.” Two hours later, the ambulance arrived in Misrata, and photos of Gaddafi’s corpse began circulating the globe.
The world may never know who killed Moammar Gaddafi. It’s possible that any one of his injuries, including the grenade explosion, may have killed him, or that the 69-year-old succumbed during the mob beating. It’s possible he was executed before being loaded into the ambulance or sometime after, before reaching Misrata. “Some militia fighters from
claim to have shot Gaddafi dead during a dispute with Misrata fighters about
where to take him, but their claims remain unconfirmed,” the Human Rights Watch
report says. Benghazi
The transitional government, wanting as little attention as possible for Gaddafi’s resting place, buried him in secret somewhere in the
desert. The grave, which he shares with his defense minister and
his son Mutassim, is unmarked.
) – New
evidence collected by Human Rights Watch implicates Misrata-based militias in
the apparent execution of dozens of detainees following the capture and death
of Muammar Gaddafi one year ago. The Libyan authorities have failed to carry
out their pledge to investigate the death of Beirut ’s
former dictator, his son Mutassim, and dozens of others in rebel custody. Gaddafi, Libya
The 50-page report, “Death of a Dictator: Bloody Vengeance in Sirte,” details the final hours of Muammar Gaddafi’s life and the circumstances under which he was killed. It presents evidence that Misrata-based militias captured and disarmed members of the Gaddafi convoy and, after bringing them under their total control, subjected them to brutal beatings. They then executed at least 66 captured members of the convoy at the nearby Mahari Hotel. The evidence indicates that opposition militias took Gaddafi’s wounded son Mutassim from Sirte to Misrata and killed him there.
“The evidence suggests that opposition militias summarily executed at least 66 captured members of Gaddafi’s convoy in Sirte,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “It also looks as if they took Mutassim Gaddafi, who had been wounded, to Misrata and killed him there. Our findings call into question the assertion by Libyan authorities that Muammar Gaddafi was killed in crossfire, and not after his capture."
Among the most powerful new evidence is a mobile phone video clip filmed by opposition militia members that shows a large group of captured convoy members in detention, being cursed at and abused. Human Rights Watch used hospital morgue photos to establish that at least 17 of the detainees visible in the phone video were later executed at the Mahari Hotel.
Under the laws of war, the killing of captured combatants is a war crime, and Libyan civilian and military authorities have an obligation to investigate war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law.
A Human Rights Watch research team was nearby when Gaddafi’s convoy engaged in its final battle with opposition forces, on
October 20, 2011. Following the
battle, the research team visited the site and found more than 100 bodies, most
killed in combat.
Two days later, the Human Rights Watch research team found the decomposing remains of at least 53 people at the nearby Mahari Hotel, some with their hands still bound behind their backs. Volunteer workers at the scene told Human Rights Watch that relatives of some additional dead had recovered their bodies prior to the Human Rights Watch visit.
To document fully what had occurred on October 20, Human Rights Watch interviewed officers in opposition militias who were at the scene, as well as surviving members of the Gaddafi convoy at the hospital, in custody, and in private homes. Human Rights Watch also reviewed a large number of video recordings made by opposition forces on their cell phones, some of which show captured detainees at the site of the final battle. Using Sirte hospital morgue records, Human Rights Watch researchers were able to establish the identities of 17 people last seen alive in custody whose bodies were recovered at the Mahari hotel.
Among those executed was Ahmed Ali Yusuf al-Ghariyani, 29, a Navy recruit originally from Tawergha. In a phone video that is believed to show him in captivity after the battle, militia forces beat, kick and throw shoes at him, and taunt him about being from Tawergha, a town seen as being loyal to Gaddafi. Al-Ghariyani’s body was later found at the Mahari hotel, and was photographed by hospital staff and buried as unidentified body number 86. He was later identified by family members from the photographs taken by the hospital staff.
These killings constitute the largest documented execution of detainees by anti-Gaddafi forces during the eight-month conflict in
Human Rights Watch said. Libya
A review of the available evidence regarding the deaths of Muammar and Mutassim Gaddafi calls into question the official account by the Libyan authorities, who claim that the two, as well as all others who perished at the scene, died during fierce crossfire. Video footage shows that Muammar Gaddafi was captured alive but bleeding heavily from a head wound, believed to have been caused by shrapnel from a grenade thrown by his own guards that exploded in their midst, killing his defense minister, Abu Bakr Younis.
In the footage, Muammar Gaddafi is severely beaten by opposition forces and stabbed with a bayonet in his buttocks, causing more injuries and bleeding. By the time he is filmed being loaded into an ambulance half-naked, he appears lifeless.
According to the evidence collected by Human Rights Watch, Mutassim Gaddafi was also captured alive at the scene of the battle, trying to break out of the siege by opposition forces. He was wounded and then filmed being transported by members of a Misrata-based opposition militia to the city of
, where he was again
filmed in a room, smoking cigarettes and drinking water while engaged in a hostile
conversation with his capturers. By the evening, his dead body, with a new
wound on his throat that was not visible in the prior video footage, was being
publicly displayed in Misrata. Misrata
“In case after case we investigated, the individuals had been videotaped alive by the opposition fighters who held them, and then found dead hours later,” Bouckaert said.
“Our strongest evidence for these executions comes from the footage filmed by the opposition forces, and the physical evidence at the Mahari Hotel, where the 66 bodies were found.”
Human Rights Watch met with Libyan transitional officials immediately after the killings to inform them of the findings, and has repeatedly met and written to Libyan officials to urge a full investigation and accountability for these crimes. Despite initial pledges by top Libyan officials that the events would be investigated, Human Rights Watch has not seen any evidence that any actual inquiry is under way or has been carried out.
The International Criminal Court was given jurisdiction by the United Nations Security Council to investigate and prosecute war crimes committed by all sides in
after Libya February 15, 2011, if
the Libyan authorities are not able or willing to investigate or prosecute.
greatest challenges is to bring its well-armed militias under control and end
their abuses,” Bouckaert said. “A good first step would be to investigate the
mass executions of Libya October 20, 2011,
the most serious abuse by opposition forces documented so far.”
militias 'executed' Gadhafi loyalists Libya
MAGGIE MICHAEL, Associated Press |
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 | Updated:
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
CAIRO (AP) — Libyan rebels appear to have "summarily executed" scores of fighters loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, and probably the dictator himself, when they overran his hometown a year ago, a human rights group said Wednesday.
The report by Human Rights Watch on alleged rebel abuses that followed the October 2011 capture of the city of Sirte in the final major battle of the eight-month civil war is one of the most detailed descriptions of what the group says were war crimes committed by the militias that toppled Gadhafi, and which still play a major role in Libyan politics today.
The 50-page report, titled "Death of a Dictator: Bloody Vengeance in Sirte," details the last hours of Gadhafi's life on
Oct. 20, 2011, when he tried to flee
the besieged city. The longtime leader's convoy was struck by NATO aircraft as
it tried to escape and the survivors were attacked by militias from the city of
, who captured and disarmed
the dictator and his entourage. Misrata
Misrata was subjected to a brutal weeks-long siege by Gadhafi's forces that killed hundreds of residents, and fighters from the city became among the regime's most implacable foes. HRW says it seems the Misratans took revenge against their prisoners in Sirte.
"The evidence suggests that opposition militias summarily executed at least 66 captured members of Gadhafi's convoy in Sirte," said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch.
The New York-based group's report says that new evidence unearthed in its investigation includes a mobile phone video clip taken by militiamen showing a large number of prisoners from Gadhafi's convoy being cursed and abused by opposition fighters.
The remains of least 17 of the detainees in the phone video were later identified in a group of 66 bodies found at Sirte's Mahari hotel, some still with their hands tied behind their back. Human Rights Watch said it used hospital morgue photos to confirm the victims' identities.
The dictator himself was seen alive in a widely-circulated video made public shortly after the battle.
"Video footage shows that Moammar Gadhafi was captured alive but bleeding heavily from a head wound," the HRW report says. But footage showed that he was "severely beaten by opposition forces, stabbed with bayonet in his buttocks, causing more injuries, and bleeding. By the time he is filmed being loaded into an ambulance half-naked, he appears lifeless."
Bouckaert said the group's "findings call into question the assertion by Libyan authorities that Moammar Gadhafi was killed in crossfire and not after his capture."
Gadhafi's son Muatassim was also videotaped alive and in captivity, only to have his body turn up at a morgue in Misrata alongside his father's.
"In case after case we investigated, the individuals had been videotaped alive by the opposition fighters who held them and then found dead hours later," Bouckaert said. "Our strongest evidence for these executions comes from the footage filmed by the opposition forces and the physical evidence at the Mahari hotel where the 66 bodies were found."
Another victim cited by HRW as an example was 29-year-old Ahmed al-Gharyani, a navy recruit from the town of
He was seen alive in the phone video as rebels beat him. His body was later
found in the hotel and eventually identified by his family. Tawergha
His hometown, Tawergha, was used as a staging ground by Gadhafi's forces to launch attacks on Misrata, but after rebels broke the siege on Misrata and overran Tawergha, the town's residents fled or were driven out by vengeful rebels.
Suleiman al-Fortia, a member of the dissolved National Transitional Council from Misrata, denied that Gadhafi or his loyalists were executed. "We hoped to arrest Gadhafi alive (to try him). All the killings took place in a crossfire," he said.
But HRW said that "under the laws of war, the killing of captured combatants is a war crime, and Libyan civilian and military authorities have an obligation to investigate war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law."
The group released its report days before
celebrates "liberation day," the anniversary of Sirte's fall on Oct.
23. Since then, the country's new leaders have heavily depended on former rebel
militias to secure cities and protect borders in the absence of a strong
national army or other government security forces. Libya
Simmering feuds between rival militias and towns continued to challenge the government's hold on the sprawling country.
A militia affiliated with the Defense Ministry shelled on Wednesday the western town of
, one of the few remaining strongholds of Gadhafi
The town had been allowed to co-exist uneasily with the new government after Gadhafi's fall but the pro-government Libya Shield militia placed it under renewed siege after residents were reported to have tortured and killed one of the rebels who caught the former dictator in Sirte.
Talks to disarm its fighters and hand over the suspects failed. Witnesses and medical officials said at least two people from the town were killed in the shelling, and 18 Libya Shield members were wounded.
Mahmoud al-Mabrouk, a resident of Bani Walid reached by telephone, said Libya Shield fighters have advanced into his district and were now only a few kilometers (miles) from the city center. He said he saw at least two people die near his house, as heavy shelling with mortars and artillery continued into the early evening.
A doctor in the hospital treating the Libya Shield fighters said 18 of them were wounded in the fighting, including two in critical condition. He spoke anonymously as he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Other militias have been implicated in revenge attacks and communal strife, while members of one Islamist militia have been accused of taking part in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in the eastern city Benghazi on Sept. 11 that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
In the aftermath of Stevens' death, popular resentment surged and thousands took to the streets of
demanding the dismantlement of the militias. The government has taken over some
militia headquarters and appointed military officers to run the groups, and
designated some "outlawed" and others "tolerated." Benghazi
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the
is urging U.S.
to genuinely investigate all claims of war crimes in last year's civil war and
to prosecute perpetrators. Libya
"With regard to Gadhafi's death, we have regularly urged the government of
to continue to investigate the circumstances," she told reporters.
"And it's very important to hold those responsible to account. This is
part not only the judicial maturation of Libya ,
but also part of the ground that they need to plow for national reconciliation." Libya
Nuland said the
is engaged in an extensive dialogue with U.S.
on all aspects of its judicial system. This involves training lawyers, judges
and civil society. Libya
"We need to now support them as they take the next steps on all of these issues," she said.
Associated Press writer Esam Mohamed in
and Bradley Klapper
contributed to this report from Tripoli,
Libya . Washington