TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s interim rulers said yesterday they had found a mass grave containing the bodies of 1,270 inmates killed by Muammar Gaddafi’s security forces in a 1996 massacre at a prison in southern Tripoli.
To the east of Tripoli, NATO bombers hit the city of Sirte to clear the way for fighters with the National Transitional Council (NTC) who are trying to capture Gaddafi’s hometown.
But Gaddafi loyalists showed they were still a threat by attacking the desert oasis town of Ghadames, on the border with Algeria, NTC officials said.
The mass grave was the first physical evidence revealed so far of the Abu Salim prison massacre, an event that was covered up for years but created simmering anger that ultimately helped bring about Gaddafi’s downfall.
“I am happy this revolution succeeded, and that our country will be better,” said 45-year old Sami al-Saadi, who believed two of his brothers died in the massacre. “But when I stand here, I remember my brothers who were killed.”
According to accounts from survivors who have spoken to human rights groups, starting at dawn on June 29, 1996, guards lined up inmates in the courtyards of the Abu Salim prison.
Security men, standing on the prison rooftops, fired at the inmates with Kalashnikov rifles before using pistols at close range to finish them off.
The uprising that toppled Gaddafi was ignited by protests linked to the Abu Salim massacre. In February, families of inmates killed there demonstrated in the eastern city of Benghazi to demand the release of their lawyer.
Anti-Gaddafi forces had pushed to within a few hundred metres of the centre of Sirte, one of the last bastions of pro-Gaddafi resistance in Libya, but later drew back to let the NATO jets do their work.
“Yesterday our freedom fighters attacked Sirte city from two sides. That doesn’t mean that Sirte is free now, but it is an indication that Sirte will be free soon,” said Ahmed Bani, NTC military spokesman in Tripoli.
“I’m asking now any militiamen fighting on the side of the tyrant (to realise) that the game is over.”
Yesterday, the roar of jet engines could be heard overhead, as well as sporadic booms when NATO ordnance hit targets on the ground. One strike, giving off a deep thud, released a big cloud of smoke and dust over the south of the city.