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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Khamis Brigade Shed Massacre: Witnesses Assessed

November 25, 2011
last addition Jan. 19, 2012

<< The Tripoli Massacres
      << The Khamis Brigade Shed Massacre

This post will be the based on the analysis formerly in the second half of the witness accounts post, but expanded quite a bit. I'll be posting it in segments, and even this should perhaps be read that way. It's going to be another long post. All sources just aren't given here, but are at that link, for anyone wanting to verify.

Blog Precedents for my Suspicions Here (Optional Intro)

The Witnesses Who Covered for a Rebel Atrocity?
For a few days starting August 25, executed black men, Gaddafi fighters, loyalists with green wristbands, and so on, started being seen, days old, across Tripoli as the media was allowed to re-enter. Most of these were left to rot in the sun, rebels said, after fleeing Gaddafi mercenaries killed them. In many cases, there was a survivor who could explain in detail how he knew Gaddafi’s men did it, but not how he managed to escape.

When at least 75 executed and beheaded loyalists and black men were found on the 26th, some beheaded, in the abandoned Abu Salim trauma hospital, the rebels had no witnesses. There was no explanation, aside from loyalists sniper injuries plus neglect after the staff ran off, because of the snipers. Then the shed massacre became known on the 27th, and it didn’t look good either. After a final NATO bombing raid and rebel surge, the remains found inside the base might’ve looked much worse before the fire.

But this time they did it differently – they had carbonized anonymity for most victims, a list of names to attach to many of those bodies, and witnesses, more than ever before, to back up their version of the crime. We haven’t necessarily heard from all the witnesses who claim to have escaped from the hell of that shed - just the ones who showed up and spoke to the media in an un-planned reunion at the site a few days after the event. There were at least 14 of them who spoke to the media on the 27th and 28th, perhaps 18, that I’ve seen, some of them doing several interviews.

As for names, there are many of them, given by locals and rebel affiliates both for those who died and those who named themselves as having escaped the slaughter to tell their largely inconsistent tales. The list could have been a bit bigger, but there are a few given names I decided belong to the same person (there may be other such names in there). In each of three cases, the linkage is too clear to deny, but the variation of names given in different interviews in noteworthy, and not down to simple transliteration issues.

Mabrouk Abdullah, the prolific survivor with a five-day-old gunshot wound in his side, apparently gave several different interviews. In one, he was “Muftar Abdallah,” and in another, just “Abdullah.” And to the Telegraph’s video report he gave no name they shared, but showed the implausibly-healed wound in his side suggesting he’s Mr. Abdullah. Muftar Abdallah Aslitni wason video for Bild.de as well, and showed a different healed mark on his back.

Moayed Burani seems to be the same transferred prisoner as Moiayad Abu Ghraim, 28. The transfer weeks before the massacre, and same first name suggest the link, but the family names are completely different. I’m not, however an expert in Arabic names.

And finally, prolific outside-the-shed witness Dr. Salim Rajub seems likely to be the same person who’s spoken to the media as Salim Rajip, Dr. Salem, and perhaps another time completely anonymous. These variations hardly seem deceptive, but his vague story and its odd delivery, and his apparent “handler” status for one of the too-many escapee witnesses, are troubling enough.

These chatterboxes also spoke of others who escaped but then were killed. Eight executed people – six of them black - were left scattered around the yard, never dragged back to the shed to join the burn. Some of the 14-18 known survivors cited 10 or so total escaping with them. Some estimated closer to 20, or even 30 out of the 153 who were there as the massacre started (per witness el Hitri, and close to what most others said, estimating anywhere between 120 and 200). That makes it odd that more than 150 bodies were removed anyways, on the 28th.

There is, as I will demonstrate, adequate reason to doubt many – or any - of these dozen-plus people were truly anywhere near that shed . They could be simple paid actors, something I imagine isn’t too hard to find in a sanctions-depressed economy like Libya’s was in August 2011. And they also give many subtle signs of being rebel sympathizers and/or propagandists; themselves never very political, they mostly claim to be just an ordinary Libyans, which Gaddafi hated, we’re to gather.

But whether they mean to or not, they seem to be helping to cover a rebel crime and create a false narrative for reasons much clearer than whatever drove the CIT north-path witnesses (from the intro) to swear to seeing the impossible.

Points Of Consistency
Keeping a duly open mind, we must take the points of agreement between different accounts as signs of either true reality seen by numerous sets of eyes, or decent coordination for a campaign of false eyewitnesses.

The self-described survivors from within the shed differ on how many grenades were used against them, (one, two, three, five, or six), but not on the fact that hand grenades were used. This is a crucial clue, as guns alone wouldn’t explain the disruption many of these corpses suffered, with parts missing, rib cages blown open, etc. All of them also agree guns were used, and the shed in fact has lots of bullet holes punctured all over it, in the door and the roof.

They don’t all agree on the order of the attack – was there shooting before the grenades, or was it grenades then shooting? All have plenty of shooting after the grenades, lasting anywhere from fifteen minutes (Mabrouk Abdullah) to about six hours (Fathallah Abdullah: "They were shooting up until two o'clock or three o'clock in the morning. Whoever is still alive they kill him.") Aside from the last, such variance doesn’t strike me as unnatural. So to be generous, I’ll class it as consistent.

One of the most consistent points is that the massacre by guns and grenades happened at Sundown. Three different days have been specified, with Tuesday the 23rd being the most consistent, and middle choice. They all had the right range at least, and calling the day Monday (as Bashir al-Siddeq said) or Wednesday (as unnamed outside witness #9 said) is a fairly natural variance. considering an alleged period of captivity where days might lose meaning.

The allegation that the guards promised freedom at sundown, per naïve-seeming witness Mounir Own, had everyone talking of what they would do once at liberty again. Some others were still talking about this oath to the media a week later. Mabrouk Abdullah with the implausible wound said the same thing at least twice. Although he gives a different, more complicated ending, A.M. Haleem said “The guards told us that it was all over and we were going to go home that day,” and then left the door un-latched.

Old Fathallah Abdullah said they were promised water at sundown and mentioned no prospect of freedom. But the other Abdullah, Mabrouk, also helps glue these together to Le Figaro, saying they were promised freedom and "at dusk, a monk came to bring a water pipe,” meaning for drinking, I presume, not smoking. In all versions, the promise was broken, with the hail of bullets delivered instead.

There are other points of agreement between a few witnesses that still manage to contradict what a majority of others said. Therefore, these will be listed below.

Points of Disagreement
Keeping a duly open mind, we must take the contradictory aspects in different accounts as signs of either divergent memories of a commonly perceived event, and/or poor coordination among a conspiracy to create a false reality. Just to narrow the focus, I'll dwell only on the details they gave of the attack and their escape, not on the prison management, their captivity, or general conditions.

Muneer Own specifies the doors were opened up for the shooting and the grenade attack. A.I. Bashir has them opened just for the grenade-tossers, with the shooting coming down through the sheet-metal roof. In both cases, the doors were apparently left open as the soldiers went to reload (and how they knew that was what they left for is unexplained). Both Bashir and Own apparently claim to have escaped through the doors unhindered in that time.

Old Fathallah Abdullah, however, has the doors shut until a fellow prisoner violently kicked them open. Then, as the BBC reported, “Fathallah ran for cover and managed to hide under a truck. He says he lay there for hours, listening to a massacre he was powerless to stop.”

A.M. Haleem’s story is greatly at odds with all others on the door and escape situation. It has the doors opened by the prisoners themselves prior to any shooting. They were left unlocked, with a promise of freedom they had only to claim. But it was a trick; those bold enough to step out were then shot, fell back, and were shot for real and grenaded by soldiers standing in the open doorway. He was only able to escape through a hole in the wall, which he specifies the prisoners made themselves since they couldn’t leave by the doors. (more on this below - he's not the only one to describe one).

And Mustafa Abdullah El Hitri has the doors closed, presumably locked, as the shooting stopped, until a defector guard named Abdul Razak, disgusted by the killing, opened them. This allowed the ten survivors hiding beneath bodies to escape. But el-Hitri is the only one who mentions this dramatic and life-saving act of heroic grace. He's also the one who swears he saw Khamis Gaddafi himself, moving his mouth like giving orders of some kind, just before the shooting started. If only this kid had been a better lip-reader, that might be proof for a war crimes tribunal, huh?

Shooting down from the roof, as A. M. Haleem described, is very different than laterally through the doorway. It would be a great place to rain down bullets which would be more random but much harder to hide from than what most witnesses describe. Human Rights Watch found on the 27th, before most other witnesses even spoke to the media, that “Human Rights Watch also observed what appeared to be bullet holes in the tin roof of the warehouse,” supporting the shooting down version. Yet the roof is not terribly punctured that I can see (nor are the doors, really), and very few witnesses describe this. In fact, only their source, AM Haleem does so. The other twenty-ish all seem to describe purely horizontal fire.

Another important detail is the date of burning. No one is certain when this happened, but by the usual account it had to be no later than the night of August 25th, as rebels took it the next morning.

But local Khaled Oub said he was attracted to the area on the 23rd by screams and gunfire, and got close enough to see the shed (but held back from from getting closer by snipers, as the guards explained to him). From there he says he witnessed what sounds like the burning of the victims, many of whom wouldn’t even be dead yet. “[T]hen we saw smoke coming from inside.”

That’s not likely, as smoke was still rising, and even open flame, on the afternoon of the 28th. It’s also contradicted by convenient witness Abdulrahim Ibrahim Bashir, who said he escaped with two injured brothers from Misrata, hid in a nearby house, and watched the place for three days. He saw guards still there, and then somehow he didn’t see when the fire was set. Before the rebels took it is all he was sure of. "The [warehouse] was already burning when the rebels came," he said, "but I didn’t see how it happened. I just saw it when the rebels came; it was already burnt, and black smoke was coming out. I left around sunset yesterday [August 26]."

He of the implausible wound, Mabrouk Abdullah, speaking as as Muftar Abdallah Aslitni, spoke to German agency Bild.de on the 28th. Felix offers a summary of what he says: including “I pretended to be dead...and saw how the soldiers set fire to the shed.” And it’s supported much more explicitly by one other witness, Mohammad Bashir, no relation presumably to the vigilant escapee he contradicts. He starts by citing a possible divine intervention during the massacre:
“I remember one of the soldiers looking at me and trying to shoot. But something happened, either his gun was jammed or he ran out of ammunition. He walked away to get another gun and I ran to the other side of the container and hid behind an empty gas canister. That’s when they poured petrol in and set it alight. They were trying to hide evidence but people were still alive. I could hear them scream.” 
Other witnesses seem to say they also saw the fire set just after the killings. These will be forthcoming...

Minimum Security Prison: Escapees vs. Physical Evidence
There are a few different ways these prisoners could have escaped, just like they did during the massacre, but at any peaceful time prior to that. As for why they did not, we could suspect the armed guards and/or the prisoners' own cowed mindset.

When they finally did decide to get the hell out of there, most prisoners cite the doors as their escape route, while others cite a hole in the wall, and others just don't say.

The hole in the wall is of special interest and worth a detailed look, which it receives in this article.

Further, as contributor Petri Krohn notes, the door locks seem less than adequate for any kind of prison. A smaller side-chamber, shown in the link above, was only secured by flap doors, with the lock situation (at ground level maybe) unclear.

The main chamber has a complex door situation I'll need to analyze some more. With a small (human-sized) door set into two large (truck-sized) doors, it appears the big doors - half the south wall - could have been opened from the latch inside at any time the prisoners had wanted. Consider this still, at left, from a Russia Today Arabic video (1:17).

Large new doors are leaning against the building, waiting for installation.

Lack of Injury and the Racial Dynamic
For those who’d seen the inside of the shed as a prisoner, only Moayed Burani/Abu Ghraim has a good reason for being unharmed: his transfer out of there prior to the fall of Tripoli. By all accounts, the shed was an open area, with nothing but other bodies and maybe a little junk (tires and a gas canister are mentioned) to shield anyone from the guards' weapons. Some were able to hide behind/underneath bodies (el Hitri mentions this), and others behind what seem to be miracles, and then junk. Consider Mohammed Bashir:
I remember one of the soldiers looking at me and trying to shoot. But something happened, either his gun was jammed or he ran out of ammunition. He walked away to get another gun and I ran to the other side of the container and hid behind an empty gas canister."
Yet at least fifteen specific people we've heard from - 10% of the alleged total killed - all meet the following criteria:
- both witnessed and survived the massacre of August 23
- generally did so unharmed, and escaped somehow
- was able to speak to the media a couple of days later
- generally were lighter-skinned Arabs (as far as we can see so far)

The bizarre inclusion of the deceased man on the stairs tries to balance out these trends. But that he's the only black escapee seen on camera only heightens the disconnect, to anyone paying attention. He seems to have numerous upper and lower body injuries, massive blood loss, gouged-out eyes, and a hole in his head. Whereas Abdulrahim Ibrahim Bashir was “was not wounded, hamdullah. They just shot and killed us.”

We’ve heard from the same witness Bashir how both of the brothers from Zlitan, Abdulsalam and Hussain, were hit in the escape. Hussain died later, he says, and was left to rot in the abandoned house they had all hidden in. Abdulsalam lived on with rebel help. These last are, aside from the man on the stairs, the only specifically identified escapees we've only heard of, not from.

Otherwise, only two of the Arab runners are said to have been injured at all in the attack or their escape. One, Mabrouk Abdullah has the wound in his side he’s mentioned and even shown. He’s simply not credible, with a long-healed hole in his side where there should be a raw, bandaged, four-day-old wound.

A.M. Haleem has an overall story that might seem implausible, but he’s one of the few with physical injuries to support it. As Andrew Giligan noted for the Daily Telegraph, Mr. Haleem had ” burns and the marks of shackles clearly visible as he lay at the Tripoli Medical Centre hospital.” These oddball injuries, unrelated to the shed massacre, wereincurred during days of captivity and torture in Zliten before being transferred to the shed. Additional injuries from bullets and shrapnel were spoken of by Haleem, but not verified by Gilligan.

Mr. Aamir Benowen was another survivor with genuine injuries, and serious ones, verified by a journalist. These were, per Tracey Shelton for Global Post, “numerous stab wounds, broken bones and severe bruising covered his body. His neck had been sliced open.” This brutality, he says through a ventilator and via an interpreter, was inflicted by loyalist guards at the Yarmouk shed, four days before the massacre. It could have killed him, and apparently the soldiers and the 150 or more prisoners around him thought it did. He lay for four days in his own blood, unassisted, he swears.

Then the massacre occurred, from which no bullet or shrapnel wounds are mentioned, although he claims he laid through that and witnessed it. He does not explain how he went from presumed dead (silent and still, obviously) to escaping the shed, with or without assistance, before the burning. But he apparently did it without getting hurt any further. One must be excused for wondering about the people who smashed up and cut Mr. Benowen (for real, not in the bizarre story).Were they sitting nearby with a sword as he told this story to the media?

Poetic Touches


  1. Haleem's (rather different) story was related to Andrew Gilligan on Friday 25 August at the latest, so two/three days ahead of other versions. But Amnesty International had also tracked down witnesses ahead of the press. Might be interesting to try to work these contacts into the time line. Odd that AI gets the scoop.(plus Gilligan) Am I missing anything?

  2. He of the implausible wound, Mabrouk Abdullah,

    mabrouk abdallah @ 0.53

    @ 0.56 cést la type de blessure FN 303

    Detainees variously described the firing as continuing for between 10-30 minutes, before the guards ceased firing and retired to the supply room.

    300 rounds in 1 minute AK 47


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