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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Khamis Brigade Shed Massacre: The Hole in the Wall

January 17, 2012
last edits Jan. 19

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

The Alternate Escape Route
Self-described shed massacre escapee Mohammed Bashir, aged 52, is alone in clearly saying to the UK Daily Mirror that fire was set to the victims not days after being shot and blasted with grenades, but minutes after, when many were still alive. Mohammed says he was in there, unharmed and hiding, when he saw how the soldiers “poured petrol in and set it alight.” They were trying to “hide evidence” that was still living, and he said “I could hear them scream."

These victims, like Mr. Bashir, were apparently unable to get out of that shed through the front doors. So why didn’t they run through the “hole in the wall” instead of staying and burning? Bashir and his friends did.
“My friends and I ran through a hole in the wall and tried to escape across the compound.”
On this point, he is not alone. While most of the 24+ publicized escapees describe scrambling through the doors one way or another, a few others say they slipped away through some other gap in the walls, suggesting perhaps that the doors remained impassable. Bashir al-Siddeq said to the CBC "when [the soldiers] went to re-load their guns, he crawled over bodies to a hole in the wall," and thence to freedom. According to the CBC's Susan Ormiston, at least eighteen others got outside with him, perhaps through that same portal.

After he decided his three wounded brothers had all died, survivor Hussein al-Lafi told Amnesty International “I then escaped with three more people through the back of the hangar.” There is no door or window in the back of the shed, so this is more than likely another dash through some hole. Abdulatti Musbah Haleem’s story to the Daily Telegraph also has a hole in the wall he and 30 others “ran out” of the warehouse through.

It’s not clear how each of these men felt they knew the number of others who escaped that way - 3, 18, or 30 - but at least they’re not all consistent on the issue. That might be suspicious.

I’ve panned around in all photos and videos and confirmed that, aside from the door, there is one and only one passage through the cinderblock wall to the outside. The following is compiled largely from the CBC's site video, with Siddeq and Ormiston visible, and a few photos. It shows the only hole this could all be about, mostly in the middle of the graphic.
It's in the northwest corner, in the upper half of the west wall there, where sunlight pours through anything bigger than a bullet hole. It lines up with a window in the shed's tin outer structure (see image further below), so a non-obese person could fit through it clear to the outside.

Given that the lower lip was six feet off the floor, most people would have to climb up on something to get through it. But that's all one would have to do, other than know the outside space and its security. It is therefore a bit odd that “ran out” keeps coming up, when “climbed out” would be more accurate memory. Perhaps this is nothing but translation error.

It is also tempting to see the escape stories under scrutiny here clashing with the door escape stories as a huge inconsistency in the witness record. It could be, but this isn't neccessarily an either-or situation; it's possible that some would use the door, and others that rough window. But the contradictions even within the small club of those who went the back way is alarming enough.

When Was There a Hole in the Wall?
Consdering up to 30 guys later ran/climbed out of the makeshift prison and cheated death this way, an obvious question is why didn't they do that before most of them were killed? The doors have a reason for being different that day; normally locked, the soldiers opened them to massacre, or perhaps to help, or  to trick and then kill the detainees.

But the gaping hole in the wall these men slept under, night after night, some of them for months, was just open. Why didn’t they stack up a few tires, or that little machine next to the doors, climb up to the lip and run/crawl out the hole in the dead of any of those nights? That an improvised jail would be maintained with such an easily-used breach shows improbably poor security, if it had pre-dated the massacre by much.

Abdulatti Haleem is reassuring in this regard. He explained how, as the Telegraph put it, “after the firing stopped he and about 30 others ran out through a hole they had made in the hangar wall.” Perhaps they made it before, or had been working on it, a-la the Shawshank Redemption, ready just in time for the massacre. I do not see any girlie poster covering their excavation through one layer of cinderblocks. Presumably, he means they had made it just then; because of the chaos of massacre, loss of family, and injury, plus adrenaline one supposes, they finally managed to tear out the window they needed.

Going against any last-minute re-modeling, however, is Physicians for Human Rights witness “Omar,” who escaped unharmed and feels he is the longest-serving among the prisoners there (PHR Report, Dec. 2011, PDF download link). He was also well-informed, having great contacts with secret ally guard "Mustafa," who was bringing them food scraps and water. Omar describes the hole better than most, and has it existing and playing an important role throughout his saga at the shed, right up until it came time to escape.

Omar related how one prisoner, some days prior to the massacre, “attempted to escape by climbing through a hole in the warehouse wall, but guards immediately shot and killed him.” Then they came in and beat the hell out of all 150 prisoners. That night, Mustafa whispered to Omar (“through the hole in the upper wall of the warehouse”) that the guards had left the escapee “to rot in the sun.”

Late on August 22 (wrong day), PHR reports, Mustafa "came to the window before evening prayer" with food, water, and a warning: “You will either escape or die.” Bypassing the useless "window," Mustafa then unlocked the shed doors "so they could escape later that night.” But, as Omar says, they made too much noise and triggered the massacre of the 22nd ("Allahu Akbar" is cited as they thing they couldn't keep quiet enough).

The "window" is apparently the same as the high hole in the wall many eventually say they escaped through. One prisoner at least had passed through in Omar's version - at the wrong time. Secrets and whispers were passed through it, food and water too. But escape could still only happen by those damn doors. That’s how Omar did it – after the guards found the lock hanging loose and punished them with grenades and guns, several prisoners “rushed the doors and ran in all directions,” as PHR summarized.

The Wall Behind the Hole in the Wall
Omar apparently did just fine with the doors, but it was a great escape route that he passed up not thinking of that window. Middle-aged Bashir Mohammed, recall, had no problem "running" right out through it, but then “tried to escape across the compound," which was the murderous part. "I know at least three men did not make it and were shot in the back by the Gaddafi soldiers," he told the Mirror's David Fricker.

At least one exterior photograph taken by the Human Rights Watch team (from their Aug. 29 report, photo cropped above) shows this breach in the corner of the shed (un-cropped, it shows what might be Omar's rotting escapee). As you can see, the hole leads straight onto the top edge of the northern outer wall of this mini compound. Could you get from the hole to the wall’s crest? I could. Escape from there was all but done. As the satellite imagery shows (northwest/north shed corner), immediately on the other side of that north wall is the open street and across that, all kinds of shelter and perhaps aid, and chances to keep running and hiding farther and farther from the bullets.

Climb out onto the wall, swing legs over, plop down and run. Easy. So why did old Mr. Bashir and his friends decide to plop back down on the yard side of the wall and then run south across the controlled compound to some other wall they’d have to climb from scratch? Only to be shot in the back while climbing it? (like "the man on the stairs" covered here.)

One of the witnesses (I forget who) mentioned seeing the surrounding walls raised, and we can see the north wall was raised by five bricks, at some point. This was for security purposes, one guesses, since it was a prison and "torture center" of local fame, as we heard afterwards. But as I see it the extra bricks only made it a tad easier to escape - no stepping down to the wall's top, just right over onto it, with two choices from there.

Why did the prisoners stay in that jail as long as they did? Were they masochists? Did they value their lives? Are all their stories just made up?
A side-note on shed layout:
This section is slightly complicated by the fact I just noticed that there are two halves to the interior of this shed. The outside shows two doorways in, but the space we've seen has only one entrance, it seems. About where the other door should be is the east wall.

And this view from the Telegraph shows the other doorway, with very insecure-looking flap doors. And just inside it, we can see the other side of that wall. Here too burning happened, though we haven't been shown it. Smoke poured up out the door (door flaps up or down I'm not sure), and around the corner of the window-blocking cinderblock wall. Note also the army pants hanging in the window...

So... did the prisoners escape from a hole in the wall of this side? Not likely, even without interior views. The hole would be visible on the outside, and as we can see, there's no hole into the other chamber, so the inner wall is out. The front wall had only the door out, as we can see. The east wall of this chamber, covered in sheet metal with no windows, and against which the dead men near mattresses were piled, seems intact in all views. Only the north wall remains as an unseen option, at this time offering no escape but over the wall and hardly even the choice of running across the yard.

So as I see it, the disconnect remains about the same even with this ambiguity added. The people who said they escaped through a hole seem to be lying. They're probably not the only ones.


  1. The hole follows a familiar pattern: "survivors" see something in the shed or on the site and integrate it into their testimony. One survivor allegedly threw a fire extinguisher at a guard. The PHR Report claims that the burnt out air compressor in the shed is the fire extinguisher. They are totally wrong: the fire extinguisher is seen outside the shed, on the left side of the door. See for example this this photo by Seamus Murphy. (right behind the V in the watermark VII)

  2. It is notable that the shed door has no look, not even a latch to attach one to.

    There is a set of five or six new high quality steel doors leaning against the outer wall. They have double latches with holes for padlocks. There is not a door frame on site, where these doors would fit. Some future expansion maybe?

    The double door in the large chamber of the shed has two latches on the inside of the door. One latch attaches the small door to the surrounding larger door (east, left, when viewed from the inside). Another latch prevents the right-hand door from being opened if the left-hand door is closed. The whole complex is held closed by a small vertical latch that extends from the left-hand door to some hole in the ground.

    The outside of the door is shown in this Russia Today video:
    53 Libyan Civilians Gunned Down and Burned by Gaddafi, Tripoli (Libya) Aug. 26, 2011 طرابلس

    There are no locks or latches attached to the outside of the door.


    Overall the shed would be totally unsuited for holding live animals, let alone people. Lack of water is one problem, lack of sanitation is another. Note however that the shed has some kind of sewer. There is a plastic sewer pipe built from multiple parts that passes under the door and extends for over a meter outside. There is however no sign that any sewage ever passed through the pipe.

    Note also that the gap under the door is almost big enough for someone to escape.

    1. @ Petri "There are no locks or latches attached to the outside of the door."

      That's fascinating. I'll have to look into that and make a graphic. Sounds like a very important consideration in this "minimum security" lock-up.

  3. The smaller chamber of the shed has no door at all. Still there are charred bodies inside. Were these too "prisoners?"

  4. Naturally there must be some part of the locks and latches that are operated from the outside – otherwise no one could get in.

    The smaller door is open on August 27th and folded against inside of the left-hand side door. There is a latch that would be operated from the outside. There does not seem to be any place to attach a padlock. The main latch on the door is however operated from the inside.

    In the condition the door is on August 27th it would most likely be impossible to lock or even close it properly. The right-hand side is obstructed by the tin roof. This could however be the result of a partial collapse of roof as a result of the fire.


    It is likely the walled "pens" on the western wall were built at the same time as the outer wall was raised by four or five layers of brick. In satellite images the pens only appear in early 2011, at the same time the compound has acquired its new "security" related use. I have no idea of what their intended use is. Part of the walls have already been knocked down.

    On the inside there is a half-finished steel wire fence. Some of the green steel netting is seen on top of the black victim in the pen. The fence could be used for caging animals - if it was properly finished.


    Given the steel doors, the extra wall tiles, and the workmanship it is evident that the Khamis Brigade – or who ever was running the place – had all the material resources needed to make the "prison" more secure – if they wanted to.

  5. The story of Abdulatti Musbah Haleem, a cement buyer from Zliten,as told to Andrew Gilligan of the Daily Telegraph on 26 August 2011, is no longer at the Ottawa Citizen Canadian site, as per witness list post, but is preserved at the Feb 17th Youth Movement site
    Cement buyer, Zliten....mmmmm

    1. Odd, I can't find the Telegraph posting either. Need to be sure I've saved this. I kind of wanted to see when in the day it was posted, since it goes back to the 26th. I hadn't noticed that before, makes it special interest. Numbers, locations, etc. get kind of weird.

      The cement buyer aspect might be a clue of sorts. I don't know what...

    2. pinboy3niner put up both the Gilligan and Hilsum stories at 02.15 on 26 August at Democratic Underground. The Gilligan piece is dated 25 Aug, the Hilsum Al Goula piece undated. DU is Eastern Time, GMT-5. Both must refer to the 25th. No trace of the Gilligan piece on the DT website. The Daily Telegraph Libya as it happened Blog is very confused on the 26th - suggests Gilligan has the story of the 180, but the link is to the Okok story (see below). The "Libya as it happened" 25 and 24 August has nothing relating to the story.

      BTW check out independent Candadian journo, John Bosnitch in a comment below this Washington Times article from 26 Aug on Okok & Co. He could see through the nonsense there.

    3. Sweet, it goes so early on the 26th it's dated the 25th. The Hilsum report, I changed that based on the PBS posting, with transcript, which says air date Aug. 25. Now I wonder where Igot August26 from.

      Haleem had the location right, unlike el Goula, the Misrata military e-mails, and Mletga. But he has this wacked set of high numbers and a door-free escape of 30 people out the hole, half of them killed while running all around the compound. That's really stupid, like Mohammed Bashir times ten, now that I think about it again. Out the hole means out the compound, and his story really doesn't add up.

      JB, noted.

  6. No time to add to the post now, but another hole escapee with a better version in one sense. From the video what happened at Yarmouk, subtitles ("CC") on.
    3:56, the host says:
    I was one of the people who crawled out through this opening. (pointing, from outside) We went out through this opening, went to the wall and jumped down.
    End of story, sounds like. They had escaped. No running around inside the walls getting shot more. Why didn't they do that before? Throwing both Omar and Haleem under the bus, he said:
    This was the only opening created, as a result of the shaking after the grenades were thrown in, this was the only opening created, the only bricks that fell.

  7. @caustic : is this the link you can't find anymore :

    11:59PM BST 24 Aug 2011
    06:15 The Information Center For Misurata Military Council claim to have found 140 bodies in a Tripoli prison. They claim the prisoners were killed by grenades thrown into their cells. So far 13 bodies have been recovered.



  8. http://blog.joinsmsn.com/usr/t/on/tony4328/1109/4e6fe51b30f12.jpg

    is there any similarity between these 2 guys?


    1. What was the original roof covering here between shed and guardhouse - was it temporary to provide shelter for African migrants sleeping? It is gone here.

    2. @ felix : it's just gone in the "what happened" vid ?
      In this vid the presentator claims that he was hanged every day on the iron structure and beaten .

      maybe an electric moveable roof?

  9. Came here to respond finally to Petri, questioning how great an escape the hole really would be. A little late in the game, I'm taking the chance to challenge and correct or strengthen an important point.

    The issue gets odder when I realize two guys listed above, "Omar," and Bashir el-Sedik/ el-Sideq is apparently the same as "Omar." Same 95 days detention, accusation of helping people flee to Tunisia, same Aug. 22 massacre. Differences: One crawled out the hole,the other did everything else through it but rushed the doors with the rest to escape.

    explained better later, but there, anyone want to ponder on that for further thoughts?


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