Libyans line up at Misrata meat locker to gawk at Gaddafi

Rebels cover wounds on deposed strongman's body, raising suspicions he was summarily executed an not killed in crossfire.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
October 22, 2011 20:25
Libyans line up to see Gaddafi's body in Misrata

Libyans line up to see Gaddafi 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Libyan forces guarding Muammar Gaddafi’s body in a meat locker in Misrata let members of the public view the deposed leader for a second day on Saturday. Unlike on Friday, wounds that may hold clues as to how the deposed leader died were covered up.

The corpse lay on a mattress on the floor of the cold room, as it did on Friday when hundreds of members of the public filed in to see for themselves that the man who ruled Libya for 42 years was dead. Many photographed the body with mobile phones; others poked his belly or head and chanted slogans and “Allahu akbar.”

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But on Saturday, the body was covered by a blanket that left only the head exposed, hiding the bruises on the torso and scratch marks on the chest that had earlier been visible.

A Reuters reporter who viewed the body said Gaddafi’s head had been turned to the left. That meant a bullet hole that earlier could be seen on the left side of his face, just in front of his ear, was no longer visible.

Guards overseeing Gaddafi’s body handed out green surgical masks to dozens of people filing in to take a look, because of the stench of rotting flesh filling the room.

The bullet hole in Gaddafi’s head, and the other wounds, could help solve the riddle of whether, as Libya’s new rulers said, he was shot in crossfire in a battle or, as other accounts suggest, he was killed by the fighters who caught him.

A local military commander in the city of Misrata, where the forces which captured him took his body, said, “Overenthusiastic” fighters took matters into their own hands when they came face to face with the man they despise.

“We wanted to keep him alive, but the young guys; things went out of control,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Also on Saturday, Mahmoud Jibril confirmed he would step down after seven months as prime minister of the Westernbacked rebel government now that the formal declaration of “liberation” was expected on Sunday.

Jibril said progress for Libya would need great resolution, both by interim leaders on the National Transitional Council and by six million war-weary people.

“First,” he said, “what kind of resolve the NTC will show in the next few days... And the other thing depends mainly on the Libyan people – whether they differentiate between the past and the future.”

The formal declaration of an end to eight months of war and of “liberation” from four decades of Gaddafi rule was expected to be made by NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil on Sunday, in the eastern city of Benghazi.

But amid regional rivalries for honors from Tripoli, the capital that fell in August, and from the third city, Misrata, whose long siege has made it a symbol of resistance, there have been several delays in the announcement. It will set a clock ticking on a plan for a new government and constitutional assembly leading to full democracy in 2013.

Jibril reaffirmed the plan was for elections to be held in eight months to the body that will draft a constitution. For now, though, there is little sign of an end to the anarchic energy that is a defining characteristic of the disparate, grassroots rebel movement that has brawled with Gaddafi’s better armed forces for eight months across vast tracts of desert, helped by NATO air strikes.

Few people in Libya – where thousands of people, including civilians, were killed by Gaddafi’s forces in the rebellion – say they are troubled by the manner of the deposed autocrat’s death.

If he was indeed killed by his captors, it will cast doubt on the promises by Libya’s new rulers to respect human rights and prevent reprisals. It would also embarrass Western governments that gave their whole-hearted backing to the NTC.

The dramatic minutes leading up to Gaddafi’s death were chaotic, violent and gruesome – as testified by the grainy mobile phone footage seen by the world of the former leader, bloodied and dazed, being dragged along by NTC fighters.

What is not captured in the footage, and is missing from accounts of the events given by fighters who were there, is how he died and who killed him.

Gaddafi was still alive when he was captured hiding in a storm drain outside his hometown of Sirte, but he already had blood streaming down the side of his face and a wound close to his left ear very shortly after he had been seized.

Government fighters hauled him onto the hood of a Toyota pick-up truck with the intention, one of them said, of getting him through the crowd of fellow fighters and to an ambulance parked about 500 meters away.

Gaddafi can be heard in one video saying “God forbids this” several times as slaps from the crowd rain down on his head.

“This is for Misrata, you dog,” said one man slapping him.

“Do you know right from wrong?” Gaddafi asks.

“Shut up, you dog,” someone replies as more blows rain down.

Misrata, one of the centers of the anti- Gaddafi rebellion, suffered months of siege and artillery bombardment at the hands of his forces.

Another video shows Gaddafi being heaved off the hood of the truck and dragged toward a car, then pulled down by his hair. “Keep him alive, keep him alive!” someone shouts.

Another man in the crowd lets out a high-pitched, hysterical scream. Gaddafi then goes out of view and gunshots ring out. One of the fighters present said Gaddafi was in a bad way but alive when he was put in the ambulance.

Yet the ambulance driver, Ali Jaghdoun, said Gaddafi was dead when he picked him up and he then drove the body to Misrata.

“I didn’t try to revive him, because he was already dead,” Jaghdoun said.

In the cold store in Misrata, the body of one of Gaddafi’s sons, Mo’tassim, had been moved from a location elsewhere in Misrata and placed next to his dead father.

The circumstances leading to the death of Mo’tassim, his father’s national security adviser who was also captured in Sirte, are similarly murky.

A Reuters reporter was shown a oneminute segment of mobile phone footage in which a man, who resembled Mo’tassim, was squatting in a room. He was stripped to the waist, and smoking a cigarette. He did not appear badly wounded.

Someone could be heard telling him repeatedly: “Say Allahu akbar, say Allahu akbar.”

At some point after that, he died. When a Reuters reporter saw his body on Thursday evening, it was laid out in a private house in Misrata. Wounds to his jaw and part of his neck were visible.

On Saturday in the cold store, Mo’tassim’s body was covered up to the neck with a blanket. The wounds to his jaw and neck had been stitched up.

Later in the day, the body of a third man, Abu Bakr Younus Jabr, was brought in and placed on a stretcher between Gaddafi and his son. Jabr, the head of Gaddafi’s armed forces, was captured in Sirte alongside his leader. A bandage was tied under his chin and looped over the top of his head.

Bullet wounds could be seen to his chest and the top of his left arm. A Reuters reporter who was able to get close to the body said she could see gunpowder residue around the wounds – which is often consistent with being shot at close range.

The people queuing outside the cold store, waiting to view the bodies, did not seem concerned about how their former leader and his entourage died. Children were among the few dozen people waiting outside for their turn.

Asked if it would not have been better for Gaddafi to stand trial, Abdulatif, a pilot waiting in line, said: “If he lived and was killed a thousand times, that would still only be a trifle.”


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