Libyan fighters have discovered a mass grave of men thought to have been captives of troops loyal to Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi in the former dictator’s crumbling stronghold of Sirte as fighting continued yesterday.
Bloated and disfigured, the corpses lay in the grounds of a farmhouse. Wearing civilian clothes, the men’s hands were tied behind their backs.
After weeks of fighting, which yesterday saw tanks push deep into the city to try and break the last pocket of resistance, three piles were found in the fields, just metres from the front line of the battle.
The spray of bullet holes in the walls, and spent anti-aircraft gun cartridges nearby, told of a grim and bloody summary execution.
Doctors who arrived on the scene two days before, as Libyan fighters first took control of the farmland, counted 42 dead.
“These men were killed five days ago,” said Dr Abdul Rauf Bin Yousef, before interim government forces were in control.
Some had been removed, doctors said, but yesterday 17 still remained. What exactly happened to these men in their last hours is not proven, but accounts from other prisoners paint a grim picture.
Anis Faraj, 22, who had been imprisoned by the regime the month before, identified some of the corpses as men with whom he had shared a cell.
“Sheikh Abdullah Farjan would lead our prayers in prison. He had been thrown in jail for speaking out against Gaddafi on a recorded tape” said Faraj, recognising a body on the site.
Mr Faraj had served in Misrata military airbase, but had escaped from his military service as the civil war intensified. He was thrown into a prison in the Sirte police station after loyalist volunteers found him hiding with family members in Abu Hadi district of Sirte, and recognised his accent as being from rebel-held territory.
Last week, after three weeks of imprisonment, Mr Faraj said guards came to the men and told them that Mo’tassim Gaddafi, who served as a security adviser to his now deposed father, “wanted the disloyal rats from the prison”.
“They lined us up, all 47 men outside with our back to four armed guards. They shot their weapons around our feet, and tied our hands with zip ties,” he added.
Mr Faraj was saved by a guard who recognised him as a colleague from Misrata military airbase. “He took me to his house, gave me a Kalashnikov and told me to continue the hunt for the ‘rats’ with them.”
As loyalists fight in an ever-shrinking pocket, they have become increasingly vengeful on opposition members.
“They are not bothering to put them in prison any more. If they think you are against Gaddafi, they kill you,” said Faraj.
“Soldiers I was with spoke of taking opposition members to the beach front to kill them.”
But a senior UN human rights official also says there is a risk of serious abuses occurring when the last strongholds of the ousted Libyan dictator fall to revolutionary forces.
The head of the UN human right’s office’s rule of law section, Mona Rishmawi, says perceived Gaddafi loyalists face persecution when fighting in the towns of Sirte and Bani Walid ends.
Keen to end the months long campaign for this, one of the last bastions of the regime, interim government fighters pounded the last district of the city that is yet to fall with tanks yesterday.
“This is about to be over. They have nothing left now,” said fighter Basset Bibas, 35.