Cluster of mass graves in Libyan town ‘Tarhuna’, hearkens to the “reign of terror” practiced by the ‘Kaniyat’

Tarhuna, Libya, April 2 2021: They swept the town like a bad wind, killing, maiming and slaughtering men, women and children, as they “ruled” over the small farming town of Tarhuna south-east of Tripoli.

The killing spree began in 2015, when the ‘Kaniyat’ gang assumed “control”, a few years after the ousting of dictator Muhammad Qaddafi in a 2011 revolt.

Silver haired men now mourn the deaths of their young sons and grand-sons, martyrs of the militia that ruled for over 5 years. They traumatized the town and exterminated entire families.

Libya is no stranger to conflict. The Arab Spring of 2011 resulted in the fall of long-standing Moamer Qaddafi in a NATO-backed revolt, and left a power vacuum that was later filled by local armed groups and in the case of Tahuna, the shadow of deaths still hangs in the air even after the brothers of Kaniyat have been toppled.

Multiple mass graves have since been unearthed in the farming town some 80 kilometres southeast of the capital Tripoli. Some bodies were found blindfolded, wrists tied, execution style. The carnage didn’t spare even children and so far, 140 bodies have been exhumed since 2020, after the town was captured from strongman Khalifa Haftar.

The Kaniyat intially supported the internationally-backed government in Tripoli. But when Haftar’s forces used Tarhuna as a launch pad for an offensive against the capital in 2019, the Kaniyat switched loyalties and ended up choosing the wrong side.

Families of victims are calling for justice to be served, without which there can be no reconciliation they say. According to the Human Rights Watch, the militia often abducted, detained, tortured, killed and disappeared people who opposed them or who were suspected of doing so. They hired enforcers from poor Bedouin backgrounds who they could bribe with money

Milaf Mohammed Abdelgader, an old man mourning his cousins said, “The Kaniyat ruled the city with an iron fist, no one had the right to speak… They had eyes everywhere”

Being unrecognizable, DNA samples were obtained to identify the bodies, prayers were said and burials performed. But real closure is still a pipe dream, as victims’ families wait for the brothers to be tried an sentenced. But the militia seems to have evaded justice.

“God will do them justice, sooner or later,” Abdelgader said quietly, before bursting into tears, his index finger pointing to the heavens. Two of the brothers have been killed, while the remaining four are on the run.

The murderous extortion spree, motivated by greed, doesn’t seem to have done them any favors since their luxury abode now lays in ruins, smashed by artillery shells and covered in graffiti commemorating the martyrs.

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