Libya's interim leadership has apologized after armed men destroyed the graves of British and Italian soldiers killed during World War II, al-Jazeera reports.
Footage of the attack posted to YouTube shows the men systematically kicking over headstones and smashing a metal and stone cross with a sledgehammer in broad daylight.
“This is a grave of a Christian,” one man says as he uproots a headstone from the ground. “These are dogs,” another says. “Come and see the inscription on this ... There is Hebrew writing on it,” says a third, in reference to a headstone.
“[We] will confront this matter and, in line with Libyan law, will pursue those people who committed this act,” the Transitional National Council said in a statement on its Web site. The council has led the country since last year’s uprising toppled Moammar Gaddafi. “This action does not reflect Libyan public opinion because Islam calls for respect for other religions.”
The attacks took place at two cemeteries in Benghazi, city in the eastern part of the country where British and Commonwealth troops fought against German and Italian forces during the war. More than a thousand Commonwealth soldiers are buried at the cemeteries. Hundreds of headstones were damaged.
In a statement on its Web site, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission confirmed that both the Benghazi War Cemetery and the Benghazi British Military Cemetery were attacked over the weekend, and said they would be fully restored, though “this could take some time.”
Australian officials on Monday said they were “appalled and disgusted by these reports,” and were working to determine how many Australian soldiers’ headstones had been affected, the AFP reports.
A spokesman for the British foreign office told BlogPost via e-mail that officials from the British embassy in Tripoli had visited the cemeteries, raised the issue with the Libyan foreign affairs ministry and Benghazi police chief and received an apology from the transitional council.
A British foreign office spokesman told al-Jazeera there was no evidence that the incident was linked to anger over the recent burning of copies of the Koran on a NATO air base in Afghanistan.
While the transitional council has worked closely with Western countries since the fall of Gaddafi, many hardline Islamists remain opposed to non-Muslim presence in the country, according to al-Jazeera. In some cases, they have formed armed groups. In the video, several of the vandalizers are seen carrying guns.