I just want to know if he is dead or alive. If we know [he was killed], at least we will be able to mourn, and start the healing process”, said Mostafa Ibrahim El-Baghdadi’s older sister.
Mostafa, 19, disappeared about two months ago in unclear circumstances in the area of Karzaz, south of central Misratah. Her words are echoed by many families in Misratah, who live in permanent uncertainty and agony over the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.
Since the beginning of the unrest in Misratah, hundreds or possibly more have disappeared, mostly men. Many were taken from their homes or from mosques by pro-al-Gaddafi forces; others have disappeared near the frontline. Some have left home, never to return.
In the area of Zawiyat El-Mahjoub alone, local activists have compiled information on and photos of 80 victims of enforced disappearance. They believe that there might be more, as some families fled the area when pro-al-Gaddafi forces took positions in the nearby Sahili Road (the main highway connecting Misratah to Tripoli and the west) on 16 March.
During our visit to Zawiat El-Mahjoub, south of central Misratah, Amnesty International met members of the El-Toumi family, who told us that pro-al-Gaddafi soldiers barged into the home of Mostafa Hadi El-Toumi on 18 March; leaving minutes later with ten male family members. The fate and whereabouts of Mostafa’s seven sons, their two cousins and their uncle is still not known.
The only two older men not taken during the raid – Mostafa Hadi El-Toumi and Hussein El-Toumi – told Amnesty International that the five armed soldiers, who entered Mostafa’s home around 5:30pm, asked no questions, merely shoving the 10 young men and boys into cars and speeding away. Hussein’s pleas to spare the minors, his son Hamza and nephew Abdel Wahad, were ignored.
A few blocks away, Amnesty International met another family distressed by the enforced disappearance of several male relatives. Brothers, Mansour Khalil Abdel Salam, 65, and Ali Khalil Abdel Salam, 64, were seized in front of eye-witnesses by pro-al-Gaddafi soldiers in Rahman mosque in Zawiat El-Mahjoub on 25 March, at around 12:45pm just before Friday prayer.
Two other men, Mohamed Shaqmani and Ali El-‘Aish, were also abducted while entering the mosque at the same time. Relatives of the Abdel Salam brothers told us that they saw the two brothers on Libyan state TV some three days after their abduction “admitting” to having been forced by armed gangs to oppose Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi’s rule. In the same house, another grieving wife told us that her husband Mohamed Khalil Mobas, 42, a father of six, was abducted by pro-al-Gaddafi forces when visiting his brother’s house in Bourwaya neighbourhood on 7 April. In a pattern that has become all too familiar in Misratah, all the men present at the time were taken during the house raid.
In a house nearby in Zawiyat El-Mahjoub, we also visited Rehab Faraj Am’ilf, 26, whose husband Mostafa Faraj El-‘Adani, 30, disappeared in unclear circumstance on 17 March – 15 days after the birth of their daughter Taqwa, and a day after the incursion of pro-al-Gaddafi forces into the neighbourhood. We could see how much effort Rehab had to make to force a smile, through teary eyes, when their 5-year-old son Faraj pointed to his father’s photo innocently asking: “Is papa coming home later?”
In addition to the agony of not knowing whether her husband is dead or alive, Rehab lost her 3-year-old daughter, Sukaina, when the family was caught in cross-fire fleeing their farm in Dafniya, another area in the western outskirts of Misratah that saw fierce fighting between pro-al-Gaddafi and opposition forces. On 11 April, the little girl was standing in front of a car door when a large calibre bullet hit her in the skull, exiting through her forehead. She died immediately in front of the whole family, including her brother Faraj and her 2-year-old sister Hawaa.
Sadly, Rehab’s suffering is not unique. In every home we enter to document one human rights violation, we find other tales of horror and abuse.