Skip to main content

Libya hedges mass grave claim

By the CNN Wire Staff
September 26, 2011 -- Updated 2306 GMT (0706 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Some bones are bigger than normal human remains, official says
  • No excavation has taken place at the site
  • The suspected grave was found August 20, government officials say
  • The site is behind a prison where a 1996 massacre was reported

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Libya's transitional government has hedged its claims that a mass grave had been found behind a notorious prison, telling reporters Monday that some bones found there were too large to be from humans.

"Some investigations have been conducted on this mass grave specifically, and there has been no conclusion yet," said Jamal Ben Noor, a senior official with the Justice and Human Rights Ministry. Ben Noor said the site reported behind Abu Salim prison in Tripoli "could be something else," because the bones found here are bigger than normal human remains.

Officials with the National Transitional Council, the movement that ousted longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in August, said Sunday that it was investigating whether a mass grave had been found behind Abu Salim. Human rights groups say Gadhafi's government put down a 1996 uprising at the cost of hundreds of lives -- a toll the regime never acknowledged -- and the NTC said Sunday the grave may hold as many as 1,270 bodies.

But a CNN team that was brought to the muddy field with other news outlets found only what appeared to be animal bones. The NTC has called on international governments to help it investigate the site, which was discovered by revolutionary forces on August 20, said Kamal el Sherif, a member of the transitional government.

Ben Noor said officials "should wait and give it more time until we finish the investigation." He said the justice ministry is investigating a number of similar sites and may form a special committee of experts to review the finds.

Abu Salim's prisoners rioted over poor conditions and restricted family visits in June 1996, seizing a guard and escaping from their cells. Guards on the rooftops responded by opening fire on prisoners in open areas, former prisoner Hussein Shafei told Human Rights Watch in an interview years later.

Security officials ordered the shooting to stop and feigned negotiations, but officials instead called in firing squads to gun down the prisoners, Shafei said. After the inmates agreed to return to their cells, they were taken to prison outdoor areas, blindfolded, handcuffed, and shot, he recounted.

Gadhafi's government denied any crime had taken place. When some families filed a complaint against the government in 2007, Human Rights Watch said, the government offered them compensation in exchange for their silence. The families refused, calling it a bribe, and instead began holding protests each Saturday in Benghazi, one of the spots where the Libyan unrest began this year.

"There is a lot more to be done to reach the actual truth of this massacre," said Dr. Salem Fergani, one of the NTC officials who reviewed the site.

Family members of the Abu Salim victims were at the site on Sunday, and former guards at the prison are cooperating with an investigation, said Abdul Wahad Gady, a member of the military council in charge of the site. Gady said Sunday that efforts to excavate the site would only begin once "the proper team of experts, consultants and forensic teams" was in place.

At first, said Gady, inmates' bodies were buried inside the prison walls, but moved outside the walls in 1999.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Phil Black and journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
March 6, 2013 -- Updated 0036 GMT (0836 HKT)
Shortly after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi last September, a phone call was placed from the area.
February 8, 2013 -- Updated 0207 GMT (1007 HKT)
A testy exchange erupted between Sen. John McCain and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey during the latter's testimony about September's deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
January 24, 2013 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took on Republican congressional critics of her department's handling of the deadly September terrorist attack in Libya.
January 24, 2013 -- Updated 0122 GMT (0922 HKT)
The Pentagon released an hour-by-hour timeline of the September 11 assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
January 29, 2013 -- Updated 1613 GMT (0013 HKT)
Bilal Bettamer wants to save Benghazi from those he calls "extremely dangerous people." But his campaign against the criminal and extremist groups that plague the city has put his life at risk.
September 23, 2012 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
Two former Navy SEALs who died last week in an attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya died after rushing to help their colleagues.
September 19, 2012 -- Updated 0224 GMT (1024 HKT)
The former Pakistani Ambassador to the UK, Akbar Ahmed, explains why an anti-Islam film has triggered massive protests.
September 14, 2012 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
The fall of dictatorships does not guarantee the creation of free societies, says Ed Husain, author of "The Islamist."
September 25, 2012 -- Updated 1532 GMT (2332 HKT)
Protests have swept the world following the online release of a film that depicts the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and killer.
September 19, 2012 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
A satirical magazine pours further oil on the fiery debate between freedom of expression and offensive provocation.
Was the attack on the Libyan U.S. Consulate the result of a mob gone awry, a planned terror attack or a combination of the two?
The images of the American embassy burning in Benghazi might have conjured up memories of Tehran in 1979 but the analogy is false.
September 17, 2012 -- Updated 1457 GMT (2257 HKT)
Libyan authorities have made more arrests in connection with the attack on the U.S. consulate that left four Americans dead.
September 17, 2012 -- Updated 2359 GMT (0759 HKT)
Three days before the deadly attack in Benghazi, a local security official says he warned U.S. diplomats about deteriorating security.
For the latest news on developments in the Middle East and North Africa in Arabic.
ADVERTISEMENT