At cemetery for Gadhafi fighters, grisly work goes on

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 2, 2011 

MISRATA, Libya — A rudimentary cemetery sits on a sand dune overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Under headstones fashioned from cinder blocks lie the bodies of more than 700 men who Libyan revolutionaries say were killed fighting for former leader Moammar Gadhafi.

On Friday morning, the volunteers who perform Islamic burial rites and inter the bodies arrived to find what's become a common scene since the cemetery opened in March: Outside the wall lay the bodies of nine men, riddled with bullet wounds. They'd been left there overnight, presumably by revolutionary fighters. Where they'd been killed was unclear.

"Perhaps they came from Tripoli," surmised Bashir Feteme, a volunteer at the cemetery, referring to the Libyan capital, 160 miles to the west. "Yesterday we had six bodies come from Dafnia," a town on the road between Tripoli and Misrata.

All the graves in the cemetery are marked with numbers, and when possible, the cemetery volunteers record the names and other identifying information of the dead. They also photograph the bodies before burial.

As the day wore on, some curious Misratans stopped at the cemetery.

"I just wanted to see it," one man said.

Misrata saw the worst fighting of the revolution, and many buildings in the city remain unoccupied as a result of heavy shelling and house-to-house fighting. Tripoli Street, once the city's main drag, lies in ruins. But the men at the cemetery said they had no mixed feelings in providing a proper Islamic burial for men who might have tried to kill them in a fight that claimed more than 1,000 lives here.

"When people are dead, you must bury them like this," Feteme said. "This is my jihad."

"Most of them are Libyans," said Ali Abdelrattah, the volunteer in charge of record keeping. "We are all one family."

Abdelrattah's statistics contradict a popular Libyan notion that most of those who fought for Gadhafi were mercenaries from other African countries, referred to locally as "mortezaka."

"Only 200 of the people buried here are mortezaka," Abdelrattah said.

"Two days ago we killed two at a checkpoint," said Yousif Fanas, one of the leaders of Katiba Habous, a group of fighters from Misrata who man a base and the checkpoints on the road between Misrata and the still-restive city of Sirte, 160 miles east.

"We took them to the cemetery. When we do this, we tell our commanders where the bodies are from and how many there are," and they notify the National Transitional Council, the revolutionaries' civilian leadership and de facto government in Libya.

Now that fighting has slowed in Libya, people have come to Abdelrattah's office, looking for the bodies of their sons and brothers.

"I expect more will be coming," Abdelrattah said. "Especially once they catch Gadhafi."

(Enders is a McClatchy special correspondent. Roy Gutman contributed to this article from Benghazi, Libya.)

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