Six Years Since the Ghargour Massacre: Killers Now Defend “Civilian State” – Al Marsad

[Libya, 15 November 2019] – Friday 15 November marks the sixth anniversary of the tragic Ghargour massacre, that saw 56 civilians killed and 518 injured. The massacre was carried out by militiamen who later joined the Libyan Dawn Operation Brigades, a militia from Misrata and other allies. The killers and the armed groups responsible for the massacre are currently part of the forces of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) that are fighting against the Libyan National Army (LNA) troops in Tripoli. 

The Libya Dawn violently removed the elected parliament from the Libyan capital after Islamists lost the democratic elections of 2014. After the illegal invasion of Tripoli, the democratically-elected House of Representatives (HoR) and the Interim Government were forced to move from Tripoli to Tobruk and Bayda respectively. The 2014 invasion of Tripoli by the Libya Dawn marked the beginning of the conflict in Libya, which to this day remains unresolved. The militia monopoly in Tripoli has dragged the whole country to instability, extremism, and dangerous economic stagnation.

Libyans point out the irony of the same militias who carried out the horrific massacre appearing on media outlets to call on people to ostensibly defend the civility of the Libyan state. To further compound their horror, Libyans also point out how militia narratives are repeated by scholars based in the West (see, for example, the articles by Fred Wehrey and Wolfram Lacher among others) with little to no mention of the war crimes committed against the Libyan people.

Today the victims’ families in the Libyan capital are in fear of retaliation by the perpetrators of the massacre who have now returned to the city to “defend” it against the forces of the Libyan National Army—against an Army that is there for the sole purpose of restoring security and stability to the city, and eradicating the terrorist and outlaw groups that pose the real threat to the civility of the state.

The Mother of All Massacres

On that tragic day, a number of unarmed worshipers demonstrated after Friday prayers on 15 November 2013, in front of Al-Quds Mosque in the center of the capital Tripoli. The former Mayor of the Municipality Sadat al-Badri had earlier called for a public rally to implement resolutions No. 27 and No. 53 issued by the incumbent legislative authority at that time, the General National Congress (GNC). The aforementioned two resolutions called for the immediate withdrawal of all armed formations from the Libyan capital. The peaceful protest was also a result of accumulated public anger due to repeated attacks by militants of various armed groups who came from other cities against the residents of the city.

The demonstrators headed towards Ghargour neighborhood where a number of armed groups confiscated the houses of the officials of the former regime of the late Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and used those properties as their headquarters. Some of these houses were also designated as detention centers.

Suddenly, a group of gunmen emerged from the compounds and fired live bullets at the unarmed demonstrators where the early civilian casualties were estimated at 47 and reached 56 persons later, according to a statement issued by the ruling Libyan Interim Government (LIG) at that time, whereas the wounded were estimated at 513 persons who sustained wounds ranging between minor and very serious injuries.

Early reaction in the wake of the horrendous massacre was restricted at the outset to the exchange of accusations as to who started the shooting. Later, some field commanders from Misrata, including al-Taher Bashagha, the Commander of the Libya Shield Battalion which was deployed in the district of Ghargour at that time, pledged to continue fighting to the end.

Tripoli municipal officials called for the withdrawal of all armed formations from the city within 72 hours. Ali Zaidan, the Prime Minister of the Libyan Interim Government (LIG) tried to dissipate an overwhelming state of public outrage in Tripoli streets by deploying armed groups dressed as uniformed soldiers who claimed to be from the Libyan Army. These forces then took over the headquarters and the camps of the armed groups of Misrata.

While securing the exit of the armed groups from the Ghargour neighborhood via the Tripoli International Airport Road, conflicting statements and disparate parties continued to point fingers at each other, while the Islamist cleric, the then Grand Mufti of Libya, Sheikh Sadiq al-Gharyani (currently impeached by the House of Representatives) disavowed his previous call to demonstrate, holding both the General National Congress (GNC) and the Libyan Interim Government (LIG) responsible for the massacre. The impeached radical Grand Mufti said that he “called on the demonstrators to end their protest and go back to their houses,” after he previously incited the protestors to demonstrate against the presence of the armed groups in their neighbourhood.

For his part, Ali Zaidan, the Prime Minister of the Libyan Interim Government held “those who had inflamed and infuriated the parties, including social and traditional media platforms and political analysts, responsible for the tragic events.”

Six  years of impunity

The mother of “Martyr Aisha” at the moment her daughter was killed and transported in an ambulance to the Tripoli Central Hospital

The Municipal and Military Councils and the Shura and Reform Council in Misrata published a joint statement that blamed the late Mayor of the Tripoli Municipality, Sadat al-Badri for the tragedy. The statement accused al-Badri of directing the demonstrators to go to the wrong destination instead of going to the squares of the city of Tripoli; where protests and demonstrations are usually held.

In spite of the elapse of six years since the bloody massacre occurred, the results of the alleged investigation, that was said to have been handled by the Libyan Public Prosecutor at that time, remain in limbo. The alleged investigation, if there was originally one, was supposed to charge the perpetrators and bring them to face justice before the competent courts.

The pressing question among the victims’ families remains, “Why was there no prosecution for the mass murder in cold blood of our children that afternoon, while the Libyan Public Prosecutor is still filing charges against others in other cases such as Saif al-Islam? Is it an abhorrent regionalization or a delay in the legal proceedings as a result of judicial bureaucracy? Or is it the requirements of the stage and the necessities of the supreme authority that Abdul Rahim Al-Keeb referred to once?”

There are still voices calling for a fair trial for the perpetrators of this heinous crime, either directly or indirectly, to no avail. Moreover, there are other incidents that Libyan lawyers, civil society activists, victims of terrorism, bloggers, writers, journalists, and academics considered war crimes involving armed and political groups affiliated with the city of Misrata at the time; and the main perpetrators behind the horrific Gharghour massacre.

From 2011 to February 2018, when a statement was issued on the developments of the Tawergha file signed by 48 personalities from different currents, orientations and regions addressed to the United Nations, in which they demanded the components of the official city of Misrata represented by the above mentioned bodies to offer a collective apology to the victims of the massacre of Gharghour.

The perpetrators of the massacre of Ghargour receive a heroes welcome with sacrifices at a checkpoint in the outskirts of Misrata on 16 November 2013.

It was a massacre carried out by identified armed men whose names and ranks are known to everyone. Instead of submitting an official apology and facing trial, they received a heroes welcome with sacrifices at a checkpoint in the outskirts of Misrata on 16 November 2013 despite killing 53 innocent souls which constituted a provocation and a deep wound in the feelings of the victims’ families in particular and the residents of Tripoli in general.

While the perpetrators are still at large, enjoying full protection and freedom, the victims’ families lives have been shattered and destroyed. The statement also demanded an apology for the massacres of Barak al-Shati and Garabulli. These massacres left a total of about 230 dead, mostly unarmed Libyan citizens. Armed groups from Misrata city participated in the killing spree, in addition to other massacres by extremist militias in Benghazi, which were supported by some parties in Misrata at that time, such as the Libya Shield Battalion’s massacre by Wissam bin Hamid and others.

Al Marsad received a copy of a statement at that time, calling on officials from the city of Misrata to apologize for about a dozen incidents which were counted as crimes committed by armed groups or political formations belonging to the city since 2011, like the apology they demanded from the city of Tawergha as a condition to allow the return of the displaced people to the city.

Today, on the sixth anniversary, Al Marsad did not receive any answer for its request for comments to the statement submitted to the Association of Martyrs and Victims of the Ghargour Massacre. Threats have already been made over the past period to the victims’ families, particularly as the the real perpetrators continue to more freely in and around Tripoli, to prevent families and the public from commemorating the Ghargour massacre in the streets of the capital, under the pretext that such demonstrations  will be viewed as if Tripoli citizens are supporting Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army.

Photos of the Massacre at Ghargour

© Al Marsad English (2019)