By Islam Atrash
The Libyan authorities have kept the bodies of 700 ISIS fighters in nine refrigerators at the Ministry of Interior in Misrata under strict protection. Not only are the refrigerators unfit for this purpose, they are also afflicted with frequent power outages. The Libyan authorities complain of the lack of cooperation from the ISIS fighters’ countries of origin and their unwillingness to receive the bodies of their citizens. The situation has left the fate of the corpses in limbo.
These 700 members of ISIS were killed by Operation Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous launched by the unity government resulting in the elimination of ISIS in December 2016 in the city of Sirte, one of its largest strongholds in Libya.
The refrigerated containers are distributed over a 1,500-square meter plot of land, with eighty bodies in each container. Evidence is taken from the bodies. They are then documented, photographed and DNA samples are collected. Each corpse is also given a number to facilitate accessing them.
Salah al-Mudham, the director of the Unidentified Corpses Unit, explained that they have identified only 51 bodies from Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Somalia, America, France, and Britain.
In his interview with Aljazeera Net, al-Mudham noted that after six years of the expulsion of the extremist organisation from the city, these bodies are still subject to negotiations conducted by the Libyan authorities with the governments of the countries of origin, which deal with the issue very delicately.
Al-Mudham confirmed that some of the refrigerators are constantly breaking down as a result of frequent power outages. Some refrigerators are borrowed from private companies that request that they be returned. They were originally intended to preserve food, not corpses. He added, “The administration that preserves this large number of bodies is not adequately equipped to deal with the corpses, while nineteen countries refuse to receive the bodies of their citizens.”
According to him, he spent eight months visiting prisons where members of ISIS are being held, carrying a folder of photos of the corpses to get help from the prisoners to identify the bodies. The process was time-consuming due to the unwillingness of the wives of members of ISIS to talk or identify their relatives.
Efforts made by the previous government of National Unity with the help of its Egyptian counterpart in May 2018 resulted in the delivery of the remains of twenty Christians who were killed by ISIS on the beaches of Sirte in 2015 where ISIS also published a video of the murder.
An official delegation from the Ethiopian government visited Misrata in late December in 2019 and met with the Department of Criminal Investigations to discuss the issue of the corpses of Ethiopians executed by ISIS in 2015. The department was able to retrieve 34 corpses from a mass grave in Sirte in December 2017.
According to Ali Tuwaylib, who is in charge of the refrigerators, the visit of the Ethiopian delegation was to verify the veracity of the reports about Ethiopian corpses. “We asked the delegation to bring samples from the families of the victims to match them with the samples we keep, but after their last visit, it became evident that they were not serious about receiving the bodies of their nationals,” he noted.
In his interview with Aljazeera Net, Tuwaylib stressed the need to expedite the burial of the bodies after they were criminally documented. He explained that they had not been buried so far because they were unable to find a place to bury the bodies after the approval of the Attorney General’s office. “This is the only solution that preserves the dignity of the bodies, but such a decision is hard to implement,” he opined.
The return of the displaced to Sirte
Ali Miftah told Aljazeera Net that he returned to the Jiza neighbourhood in Sirte to find complete destruction of the city, adding that officials do not want residents to return under the pretext that there is uranium in the area. Yet he was happy to return after the expulsion of ISIS fighters from the city, their last stronghold. “We are back in our homes again, which is certainly better than staying in rented accommodation,” he said.
ISIS had seized control of Sirte in 2015, taking advantage of the internal fighting between the Libyan armed factions. The city was a base from which the organisation launched its attacks. It was able to expand without any hindrance due to the infighting between Libyan factions.
The identities of corpses
International law professor and human rights activist Musa al-Qunaidi told Aljazeera Net that the decision not to dispose of the bodies may not be a good thing, “but in the long run, it may be useful in convincing countries to receive the bodies of their nationals and to prove that terrorism and its danger struck Libya from abroad, from neighbouring countries, with the exception of the few Libyan elements that have joined the ranks of ISIS.”
According to al-Qunaidi, international agreements stipulate that countries have an obligation to identify corpses and Libyan law obligates the Public Prosecutor to determine the locations and identities of missing persons. “A DNA-based identification process should be launched for those who have not yet been identified,” he pointed out.
According to Mukhtar al-Maadani, the Mayor of the Sirte Municipality, the municipal council has been holding continuous meetings to discuss a number of projects to help displaced people return to Sirte.
Speaking to Aljazeera Net, al-Maadani pointed out, “The biggest challenge is restoring the basics of life after the destruction of the infrastructure.” The rehabilitation of these facilities requires the serious intervention of the government, especially after the decision of the cabinet of the Government of National Unity to establish the Sirte Reconstruction Sovereign Fund with a budget of about one billion Libyan dinars. “In addition, a comprehensive survey of the area must be conducted to clear landmines and other remnants of the war,” he added.
Source: Aljazeera.net( in Arabic)