1996: The Abu Salim prison massacre

1 comment June 29th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1996, Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya massacred hundreds of prisoners in mass shootings at Tripoli’s notorious prison Abu Salim.

Human Rights Watch has charged that the death toll might surpass 1,200 although the government’s long-term stonewalling has helped to obscure the scale.

The day prior, inmates had seized a guard to protest poor prison conditions. Qaddafi’s own brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi was dispatched to negotiate a settlement. It was a simple arrangement: release the guard. Have some grievances redressed.

The guard was duly released, in good faith.

And by way of reciprocity, Senussi unleashed a general slaughter. Multiple prisoners have given accounts to human rights investigators of mass murders, inmates “lined up and shot, execution-style, by young conscripts whose choices were shoot, or stand with them to be shot” and buzzard squads picking through the groaning heaps of bullet-riddled men to administer coups de grace. A kitchen worker quoted by this 2001 BBC Witness broadcast who described how

soldiers in khaki uniforms fired upon the prisoners in the courtyard from the rooftops with automatic weapons and then followed through with pistols, individual shots, and killed what he claimed were 1,200 of his fellow prisoners … the number came to him based on the amount of meals he said he had prepared prior to the incident, and thereafter.

Senussi, who was Qaddafi’s spy chief, was at last notice under sentence of death himself in post-Qaddafi Libya.


“The people want the death penalty for Abdullah Senussi for the Abu Salim massacre” reads the poster, according to the BBC.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Common Criminals,History,Innocent Bystanders,Known But To God,Libya,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Summary Executions

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1986: Alec Collett, Lebanon hostage

Add comment April 16th, 2017 Headsman

On (or very near) this date in 1986, Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal had British hostage Alec Collett hanged in revenge for the previous day’s U.S. bombing of Tripoli.

Collett, a journalist and U.N. aid worker, had been abducted in Beirut more than a year earlier.

Abu Nidal, his captor, was the brand-name terrorist of his era. Indeed, his own name was a brand: Sabri Khalil al-Banna was the name he was born into, in a wealthy Palestinian family driven to dispossession and refugee camps by the Nakba. It was the Abu Nidal organization‘s assassination attempt on Israeli diplomat Shlomo Argov that triggered Israel’s counterproductive 1982 invasion of Lebanon, perhaps (for its long-term consequences) the crowning achievement of Abu Nidal’s career.*

This very conflict brought Collett to Beirut, as an aid worker for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Stopped at a militia checkpoint on March 25, 1985 where he might have been taken because of an Israeli-stamped passport, Collett became one of about 100 foreigners seized as hostages by various factions over the long course of the Lebanese conflagration.

Only a few of these hostages died in their captors’ hands; they were in the main prisoners for leverage, and so efficaciously did they lever that it was these very souls that Ronald Reagan‘s U.S. administration proposed to retrieve by purchasing the (officially enemy) influence of Iran in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.

Confusingly shifting factional advantage has tangled Middle East politics for many a year, to be sure, and here the prospect of a negotiated release was aborted by the April 5, 1986 terrorist bombing of a Berlin discotheque frequented by U.S. soldiers — two of whom died in the blast.

This outrage proved to be the project of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who then stood in a very tense position vis-a-vis the West. Ten days after the disco attack, Reagan responded with an air raid on Libya clearly intended to assassinate Gaddafi — who fled his compound moments before it was crushed by a fleet of 2,000-pound bombs. (The bombing might or might not have slain the dictator’s infant daughter.)

This attack on Gaddafi was also an attack on that arch-terrorist Abu Nidal, whom Gaddafi had recently taken in after a former patron Saddam Hussein made a bid for respectability by expelling him from Iraq.** And it so happened that Collett’s unoffending person offered Abu Nidal the most immediate vehicle for retaliation.

It’s not completely certain that April 16 was the date of Collett’s murder, though there is no real reason to doubt his executioners’ claim on this point. The matter was confused at the time because three other dead westerners discovered on April 17 were initially reported to include Collett among their number — a claim subsequently debunked. On April 23, Collett’s captors released a grainy video of their masked prisoner being hanged;† however, the identification of the noosed man was still questioned for many years. Collett’s remains — confirmed by DNA testing — were only discovered in 2009.

The anniversary of Collet’s initial abduction, March 25, is kept annually by the United Nations as International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.

* Israel withdrew from the bloody morass three years later, having displaced the Palestinian Liberation Organization for a much more effective new resistance movement in Hezbollah. Decades later, Osama bin Laden would cite Lebanon as the event that “gave birth to a strong resolve to punish the oppressors,” including the sight of “demolished towers in Lebanon” to inspire a bit of tower-toppling of his own.

** Abu Nidal had only recently on Gaddafi’s behalf hijacked an EgyptAir flight, killing dozens.

† I have thus far not been able to locate this video online.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Execution,Hanged,History,Hostages,Lebanon,Libya,No Formal Charge,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1997: Eight foes of Qaddafi

Add comment January 2nd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1997, Libya announced the executions of six military officers and two civilians as “agent-spies who sold their honor, dignity and homeland to their enemies and supplied agents of foreign governments with information relating to the country’s defense secrets.” They had been convicted just the day before.

The unnamed banned organization to which they were accused of passing state secrets was the exiled National Front for the Salvation of Libya, an opposition group which, after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, reconstituted itself as the National Front Party and presently holds seats in the Libyan Congress.

At the time of the executions, the National Front claimed that their real offense was a failed 1993 revolt.

  • Col. Miftah Qarrum al-Wirfalli
  • Major Ramadhan al-’Ayhuri
  • Major Khalil Salam Mohammad al-Jidiq
  • Col. Mostafa Abu al-Qassim Mas’ud al-Kikli
  • Lt-Col. Sa’ad Saleh Farag
  • Major Mostafa Ihbayl al-Firjani
  • Dr Sa’ad Misbah al-‘Amin al-Zubaydi
  • Sulayman Ghayth Miftah

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Libya,Mass Executions,Shot,Soldiers

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2010: 18 in Libya

Add comment May 30th, 2011 Headsman

Last year on this date, Libya — having just days prior been controversially elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council* — celebrated by conducting 18 firing squad executions.

State media reported that 14 were shot in Tripoli, and four more in Benghazi, in unspecified cases that Amnesty International “fear[ed] … fail to satisfy international standards for fair trial.”

Among them were nationals of Nigeria, Chad, and Egypt who, particularly in the first case, might have been condemned at a tribunal entirely conducted in a language they could not understand.

Qaddafi’s Libya has always been opaque about its practice of capital punishment; if it met the international outcry for more information about these 18, this site is not aware of it.

But as with Libya’s neighbor in the so-called Arab Spring, it’s one small reminder that what goes around occasionally (maybe) comes around too.

* In view of the current unpleasantness, Tripoli has recently been suspended from the body.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Known But To God,Libya,Mass Executions,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot

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