Gaddafi snatch squads took hundreds of men and boys from Misrata

In some quarters of the once besieged Libyan city, nearly every family has lost a member. Ruth Sherlock reports

The lifting of the siege of the embattled Libyan city of Misrata has revealed the disappearance of hundreds of people with many of them suspected victims of snatch squads loyal to the Gaddafi regime, relatives and rights workers said yesterday.

A desperate search has begun for "the disappeared", many of whom were reported to have been taken away to regime prisons or killed during some of the fiercest fighting of a three-month rebel uprising that has reduced parts of the city to rubble.

Witness accounts gathered by The Independent and rights groups indicate that there was a systematic attempt to kidnap men from parts of the city.

Sixteen members of one family were captured by troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi when they left their home to inspect a factory that had been destroyed in the fighting, according to their relative Salem, who declined to give his full name for fear of recrimination. "There had been shooting on the road in the morning, it is near the front line but later the rebels told them it was safe," he said. "Suddenly Gaddafi's men appeared waving guns, they rounded them up into pick-up trucks, and took them all away."

After nearly two months of no news, he received word from a man who claimed to have escaped from Tripoli prison. "He told me my family members are there. But up to this day I cannot be sure they will come back.

"If somebody is dead, we consider them martyrs; at least you can bury them and know that they are going to heaven. But to have them taken alive: you don't know if he is being tortured."

The full extent of the missing has only been revealed as the city slowly comes back to life following the ferocious bombardment by forces loyal to Col Gaddafi.

Many families were unable to leave their homes after regime tanks entered the heart of the city and snipers took up positions on roof tops. Rebel fighters backed by Nato airstrikes forced regime forces to the outskirts of the city two weeks ago, allowing families to venture out again.

A newly opened missing persons office has registered 1,020 people with the number rising every day, said lawyer Tarek Abdul Hadi, organising the piles of forms detailing those missing. Families yesterday were pushing photos of their loved ones into the building. "These just arrived in the last hour," said Mr Hadi, indicating a pile of passport photos of Misrata's lost men, women and children on his desk.

Most of the missing are men between the ages of 20 and 40. More than 40 children, some as young as six, and elderly people between 60 and 85 years are also missing, he said. "Fighters report seeing some being used as human shields on the front lines, others have been taken away to fight for Gaddafi," he said. "But many, many are presumed dead."

Residents reported large numbers of people were snatched in the suburbs where Gaddafi soldiers lived for more than one month, launching rockets and artillery into the city. In Zawiyat El-Mahjoub, a suburb 9 miles west of the city centre, locals document 80 victims of forced disappearance, according to a report by Amnesty International.

In the district of Kerzaz, where houses are pockmarked with bullets and shrapnel damage from the fighting, some families said that those who stayed there in the early days of the fighting were captured in house raids by Gaddafi forces. The home of Soliman Zain, 37, was looted and burned by Gaddafi forces. A safe taken out of the house was riddled with bullets. "They stormed into all of these homes, stealing money, jewellery and all our valuables. Anyone they found here was captured," said Mr Zain, whose neighbours, brothers Khalil and Faitoui, were taken in the raid. They are still missing.

In another suburb of el Ghiran, at least one member of almost every family has disappeared. On 22 March, Gaddafi soldiers stormed into the home of 63-year-old Huda and took away every man in the household. "They came with a tank and three armoured personnel carriers," she said. "They were shouting and shooting into the air, they banged the door. They took five men away from this family."

She has been left with nine grandchildren to take care of. "What did we do? What did we do to deserve this?" she said crying. "We are just women here, we need a man to protect us." She has heard nothing from them for more than two months.

News of the abductees is scarce despite appeals on television and through Facebook and contact with the Red Cross. Some of the captives have been seen on the government-run Libyan state television among the crowds in pro-Gaddafi rallies in Tripoli, according to families.

Abdul Hadi's 80-year-old father was captured as he returned to his farm from the mosque. For over a month his family heard nothing from him. On 18 April they saw him on television. "They give him a green flag, and make them sing in support of Gaddafi," Mr Hadi said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
news
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£20000 - £21000 per annum: The Jenrick Group: This high quality manufacturer o...

The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £35000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical ...

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'