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in Tarhouna, new mass graves discovered after years of terror of the al-Kani siblings

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                 Tarhouna, the inhabitants never stop counting their dead.  Ten months after the withdrawal of forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar from this city located 80 kilometers east of Tripoli, mass graves have still been discovered, where many residents were buried, victims of the murderous madness of siblings born from the region, the al-Kani, who reigned supreme in the city for five years.  Our Observer is still without news of his seven cousins ​​kidnapped at the end of 2019.

                                    <p>Tarhouna was taken by troops of the Libyan National Army (ANL) led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar on April 4, 2019. The strong man from eastern Libya, who dreamed of taking control of the entire country, stood the city served as a rear base to launch its offensive against the capital Tripoli.  It was taken over on June 5, 2020 by forces loyal to the Government of National Unity (GNA).

But the city had already been living under terror since 2014. The al-Kani brothers had there kidnapped, tortured, killed, disappeared, all those who opposed them, contested their presence or were considered to be opposed. Omnipotent, the militia “controlled all aspects of life,” Human Rights Watch said. At least 338 residents of Tarhouna have been reported missing according to the Public Authority for the Search and Identification of Missing Persons, Human Rights Watch reports.

From 2019, the militia joined forces with Marshal Haftar’s troops. But it did not survive the recapture of the city by forces loyal to the GNA in June 2020. It was from there that the authorities began to unearth the mass graves where the victims were buried.

Contacted by the Observers editorial staff, the president of the association of victims of Tarhouna, Abdelhakim Abou Naama, indicates that 43 mass graves have been discovered to date, while more than 200 corpses have been exhumed. Only 50 of them have been identified and returned to their relatives.

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The al-Kani brothers, Mohammed Khalifa, the leader, Abdelkhaleq, Muammar and Abdulrahim, they fled. A fifth brother, Muhsen, was killed in September 2019.

Mohamed َ Jaaca, 31, lives in Sidi El Saïd, a village near Tarhouna. He is looking for his seven cousins ​​who are still missing.

“This militia kidnapped and killed for a yes or a no”

My seven cousins ​​are missing, but we still hope to find them alive. The seven were kidnapped from their home on November 19, 2019, around midnight. The militia took their cars, their money. We heard that they had been taken to a prison in the city of al-Qadia. We do not know the exact reason for their abduction. This militia kidnapped and killed for a yes or a no.

One of them is called Rabi Ali Khalifa, we are both very close, like brothers.

Photo montage showing the seven missing cousins ​​of Mohamed Jaaca. © Mohamed Jaaca

Bodies are found almost every week. Wednesday [24 mars], the family members of a very close friend, Abdelkrim, were found in a mass grave. The al-Kani militia accused them of providing information to the government in Tripoli on the positions of Haftar’s forces in Tarhouna. It is about my friend Abdelkrim, his father and his two brothers. They will be buried this Friday [26 mars].

Usually, victims are identified by their families. The bodies are transported to the mortuary of the University Hospital in Tripoli. There is also a room where their personal effects, clothes, jewelry are displayed, to allow families to identify them through this.

The hospital also uses DNA analysis to identify victims, but this practice is not widespread.

DNA analysis carried out on a corpse exhumed in Tarhouna, on March 15, at the University Hospital of Tripoli.
DNA analysis carried out on a corpse exhumed in Tarhouna, on March 15, at the University Hospital of Tripoli. © Facebook

The mass graves were brought to light thanks to the testimonies of residents and survivors. Most of these mass graves were discovered in wasteland in an area called Machrou Al Rabt, about ten kilometers from Tarhouna.

Among the bodies found, there are also women and children. In January, twelve members of the same family, the M’dich, were buried by their relatives. There were two women among them.

In a November 2020 report, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) referred to “reliable” information according to which “the forces of Tarhouna affiliated to the ANL have committed serious crimes, including murders, kidnappings [et] enforced disappearances… ”, reports Human Rights Watch.

Burial of twelve members of the M'dich family, in January 2021.
Burial of twelve members of the M’dich family, in January 2021. © Internet

The al-Kani gang had taken control of Tarhouna since 2014, sowing fear among the inhabitants. They enjoyed parading around the city with lions and tigers to terrify people.

But when Marshal Haftar took possession of the city at the end of 2019, they rallied to his troops, and kidnappings and murders increased, especially against large families, because they were considered sympathizers of the government of Tripoli.

Abdulrahim is the most terrifying character. It was nicknamed “the iron hand”. He was killing in cold blood and for no reason. He was killing for a simple look that he didn’t like. He suffered a serious eye injury in December 2019. He left for medical treatment abroad, but he still returned to spread terror in the city until June 2020.

<div class="m-em-image">
Abdulrahim al-Kani posing with his two tigers.
Abdulrahim al-Kani posing with his two tigers. © Facebook
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<div class="m-em-image">
Muhsen al-Kani, brother of Abdulrahim, killed in September 2019.
Muhsen al-Kani, brother of Abdulrahim, killed in September 2019. © Internet
    </div><p>In June 2020, the Tripoli prosecutor launched a <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noopener">arrest warrant</a> against the al-Kani siblings and about twenty of his acolytes.

Long plagued by conflict and torn between two rival authorities, a government of national unity based in the West in Tripoli and recognized by the UN, and a power embodied by Khalifa Haftar in the east, Libya has a new government union since March 15. Incarnated by Abdelhamid Dbeibah, interim Prime Minister, this government replaces the two rival entities and is supposed to unify the country.

The residents see it as an opportunity to shed light on the crimes committed by the al-Kani siblings. Mohamed continues:

“We asked the new government to conduct serious investigations to find these siblings and bring them to justice. We want these people to speak up and say where the victims are buried and where the missing are. We want a transitional justice process: a trial, that the truth site, and reparations for the victims and their families. ”

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