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.

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress among those on 'master list' of massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Primary Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...

Supply Teachers Required

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of Pay, Excellent CPD : Randstad Educati...

NQT and Experienced Primary Teachers Urgently required

£90 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: NQT and Experienced Primary Teac...

Year 1 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor