Libyans say they uncover secret Gaddafi-era morgue

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Fighters loyal to Libya’s new rulers broke into a locked part of Tripoli’s main hospital at the weekend and discovered the remains of 17 people, including a baby, in what staff said was a secret morgue for Muammar Gaddafi’s opponents.

Officials say they suspect most of the bodies seen by Reuters were the victims of executions that followed an attempted coup against the now fugitive former Libyan leader in 1984.

But some doctors fear they will never know for sure as the bodies are already in a very advanced state of decomposition and come with no personal belongings or documents, Reuters reports.

Fighters loyal to the country’s new rulers, the National Transitional Council, broke into the locked facility at Tripoli’s central hospital on Saturday.

Doctors at the hospital said it had a separate entrance to the rest of the building and staff were banned from even speaking to the men who carted bodies in and out.
“One of the worst people, the man in charge of Abu Salim [prison], controlled around 30-40 cabinets there. We were never informed about the bodies and we never learned who the guards were,” Nouri Al Habab, who works at the main hospital morgue, told Reuters.

Several of them appeared to have been shot, with what looked like bullet holes in the skulls.

Some had been there so long, they had almost mummified yet the morgue was kept scrupulously clean and polished.

Thousands of people, including children, vanished during Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, rights groups say.

MOBILE PHONES AS EVIDENCE

A Tripoli pharmacist who was at the morgue but does not work at the hospital, and who did not want to be named, is leading a group trying to identify the bodies of 167 other people killed in one neighbourhood during the battle for Tripoli in August.
“With a dictator like Gaddafi, it happened,” the pharmacist said. “In every Libyan family you’ll find a missing person.”

Last year, his cousin disappeared, he said, and his body was discovered when his killer was captured during the revolution and found with his victim’s mobile phone. The man, now in prison, has since confessed to the murder.

Mobile phones play an important role in identifying bodies and finding missing people, the pharmacist said, because Gaddafi’s soldiers often stole them from people they killed or transferred the balance to their own numbers.
“When the men killed they removed all personal belongings so the bodies were more difficult to identify, to make it even more miserable,” he explained, referring to a practice that rights groups say was common practise during Gaddafi’s rule.

Many phones confiscated from soldiers after the war also contained footage, filmed by Gaddafi forces, of people being killed, officials claim.

These recordings will be used as evidence against captured loyalists and could help in the search for buried dead.

The 167 bodies found after the fighting in Tripoli were later buried. Notices pinned to the wall of the main morgue list numbers corresponding to their graves, and where possible, a photograph and any other information linked to the body.
“If families come in and find their relative on this list, they are lucky,” the pharmacist said. “We can take them to their grave.”



There is no such information, as yet, on the 17 bodies discovered in the secret room.