NATO-backed Islamist rebels ushered in a macabre pattern of killing in Libya seven years ago. After dumping the bloodied, half-naked body of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi on a cheap mattress as a trophy of battle, they helped plunge the country into a brutal civil war that it has yet to recover from.
Libya is a toxic scene of chaos and dead bodies. There have been Libyans killed in vendettas between rival militias, Christian Egyptian migrant workers slain by terrorists and African migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean.
The gruesome discovery October 27 by Libyan authorities drove home the country’s hellish reality: 36 bodies were found in a mass grave outside the town of Al-Abyar, south-east of Benghazi, authorities said.
Pictures on social media showed victims of different ages and backgrounds. Some wore business suits; others were in sportswear. Some male victims appeared to have been shot in the head with their hands tied behind their backs.
Some Libyans, calling the victims “kharijits” — a reference to radical Islamists battling Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) in eastern Libya — expressed joy at the news of the Al- Abyar mass grave but it is unclear who the victims were.
Unfortunately, the grisly scene is far from unique in Libya, which plunged into chaos after the death of Qaddafi in 2011. Mass graves have been reported over the past three years in Benghazi and Sirte and no one has been held to account.
Violence in the country has been exacerbated by political meddling and military intervention by Arab and European powers.
At least 15 people were killed October 31 in an air strike in the besieged eastern city of Derna, the UN-backed government in Tripoli said in a statement during a three-day mourning period for the victims. The UN Support Mission in Libya said at least 12 women and children were among the dead.
Derna is controlled by a coalition of Islamist militants and jihadists known as the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council and has long been under siege by Haftar’s LNA. The LNA and Egypt have carried out air strikes against it but both denied responsibility for the October 31 attack.
An Egyptian military source said Egypt was not responsible for the air strike. An Egyptian television station said Libyan planes conducted it. LNA military spokesman Ahmed Mismari called the strikes a “terrorist attack” and expressed sympathy to the victims and their families.
Asked why the strikes went unclaimed several days after the killings in Derna, Maghrebi intelligence sources argued that the attacks targeted a former Egyptian special forces operative who joined jihadists in Libya. Two intelligence sources identified the former operative as Ahmawi Hisham, whom Cairo authorities blame for masterminding sophisticated car bombings and other attacks in Egypt.
The sources said the outrage caused by the killing of civilians, including children, made it difficult for any side to take responsibility for the attack.
On November 1, Libyan military officials said Mustafa al-Imam, who is wanted regarding the 2012 attack on US diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, was captured by US special forces and was taken to the United States.
Imam, who is believed to be a Syrian national, lived in the Laithi district of Benghazi, where he frequented the same Al-Awza’i mosque as suspected ringleader Ahmed Abu Khatallah. Khatallah was captured by US forces in 2014.
Imam was charged with “killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility” and providing “material support to terrorists resulting in death.”
Laithi was an Islamist stronghold in which some of the heaviest fighting in the battle for control of Benghazi, which began in 2014, took place. In July, Haftar announced victory in his war against “the Islamist terrorists” in Benghazi and vowed to free the rest of Libya from Islamists.
Despite efforts by international powers to mediate a solution to the conflict and decide on a plan for reconciliation and national elections, little progress has been made.
The United Nations’ Joint Drafting Committee for Libya has wrapped up a second round of meetings, during which it made slight amendments to the Libyan Political Agreement but did not schedule future talks.
Libyan political analyst Ezzeddine Aguil said rival factions were unlikely to reach an agreement until powerful international players agree upon a resolution.
“Big powers have yet to give their green light for an accord while the Libyan people continue to pay the price,” Aguil said.
Lamine Ghanmi is a veteran Reuters journalist. He has covered North Africa for decades and is based in Tunis.