Mass Graves Discovered in Libya Linked to 'Massacre' of 1,200 Prisoners

Investigators in Libya have found a mass grave believed to contain remains from the 1996 massacre of 1,200 inmates at Tripoli's notorious Abu Salim prison, according to Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC).

The information was provided by the provincial government, which owes its existence, in part, to street demonstrations that began following the arrest of Libyan lawyer Fathi Terbil, who represented more than 1,000 relatives of prisoners allegedly involved in that massacre.

These demonstrations provided a catalyst for the nationwide protest movement that eventually toppled President Muammar Gaddafi's regime after more than 40 years of authoritarian rule.

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For many years, relatives of those who disappeared had been appealing to Libyan officials to provide information of what happened to the prisoners.

It had long been the belief that the bodies had been interred near the prison.

The site was identified through information obtained from witnesses and former prison workers taken into custody after Gaddafi fled Tripoli, officials said.

A military spokesman and members of a committee tasked with finding mass graves said they were confident they had discovered the remains of the prison massacre victims, based on information from former regime officials who have been captured in the fight against the now deposed leader.

The U.S. government had said it was compelled to intercede in the Libyan conflict due to concern that Gaddafi would have made good on threats to massacre protesters amassed against him, or, as the authoritarian leader suggested, hunt them down "like rats."

According to reports, Libyan leaders intend to put focus on determining what really occurred at Abu Salim. The provisional government has said it wants to capture Gaddafi and his associates and put them on trial for crimes committed during his rule, including killings at Abu Salim.

Witnesses have said Gaddafi's security chief, Abdullah Senussi, who is also Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, appeared at the prison the day before the killings of most inmates and probably ordered the execution.

"These families have been waiting for over 15 years to know the truth and obtain justice," said Claudio Cordone, Senior Director at Amnesty International, in a statement. "The NTC and experts must approach the evidence and remains on this site with the utmost care."

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