Skip to main content

Libya hedges mass grave claim

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:06 PM EDT, Mon September 26, 2011
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
updated 7:36 PM EST, Tue March 5, 2013
Shortly after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi last September, a phone call was placed from the area.
updated 9:07 PM EST, Thu February 7, 2013
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.
updated 9:16 AM EST, Thu January 24, 2013
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took on Republican congressional critics of her department's handling of the deadly September terrorist attack in Libya.
updated 8:22 PM EST, Wed January 23, 2013
The Pentagon released an hour-by-hour timeline of the September 11 assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
updated 11:13 AM EST, Tue January 29, 2013
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.
updated 8:16 AM EDT, Sun September 23, 2012
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.
updated 10:24 PM EDT, Tue September 18, 2012
The former Pakistani Ambassador to the UK, Akbar Ahmed, explains why an anti-Islam film has triggered massive protests.
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 14, 2012
The fall of dictatorships does not guarantee the creation of free societies, says Ed Husain, author of "The Islamist."
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Tue September 25, 2012
Protests have swept the world following the online release of a film that depicts the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and killer.
updated 6:56 PM EDT, Wed September 19, 2012
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.
updated 10:57 AM EDT, Mon September 17, 2012
Libyan authorities have made more arrests in connection with the attack on the U.S. consulate that left four Americans dead.
updated 7:59 PM EDT, Mon September 17, 2012
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