The Khamis Brigade, which is known to be fiercely loyal to fallen Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, killed around 50 detainees and then set the Tripoli warehouse where they were lodged on fire on Aug. 23. The Khamis Brigade is run by Gaddafi’s youngest son Khamis, and is often considered to be the most dreaded militia in the country. Khamis Gadaffi was reportedly killed in a NATO airstrike on a military outpost at Zlitan near Misrata at the beginning of this month, but the Khamis Brigade has denied this.
A similar incident was reported on Aug. 21, 2011 where the Khamis Brigade killed 17 detainees in a makeshift prison near Gargur in Tripoli. In another incident, on Aug. 26, 18 decomposed corpses were also found near the Internal Security building in a dried riverbed between Gargur and Bab al-Aziziya, opposite the Brigade headquarters. These acts of vengeance by the Gaddafi regime are widely seen as serious war crimes that violate the International humanitarian laws applicable in armed conflicts.
According to one of the survivors of the Aug. 23 conflagration, Abdulrahim Ibrahim Bashir, 125 of the 153 detainees were civilians and were detained there for more than three months by the Khamis Brigade. Uniformed troops and mercenaries used to guard them. Food was given periodically and they were allotted one liter water a day. There was no lavatory available for them.
He said the guards of Khamis Brigade opened fire and threw grenades at sunset on Aug. 23, killing the detainees. The Khamis Brigade continued their assault till the next morning, ensuring all detainees were dead before they set the house on fire. When found, the corpses were still smoldering. Most of the charred corpses were found to be bound with rope.
“These incidents, which may represent only a fraction of the total, raise grave questions about the conduct of Gaddafi forces in the past few days, and whether it was systematic or planned,” said the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson. “If these incidents are proven to be extra judicial killings they are serious war crimes and those responsible should be brought to justice.”
Former Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Abdul Jalil had said earlier that each of Gaddafi’s sons owns an army. However, of all the three “regime protection units, the Khamis Brigade is known as the most powerful and influential.
Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) has said about 60,000 men have been detained by the Gaddafi government in the past six months. Till date only 10,000 have been freed, which again raises serious concern for the relatives of the missing detainees.
Now that the rebels have seized the capital, the question on the fate of the unaccounted detainees remains unanswered just as the fate of the country in the post-Gaddafi era.