MISURATA, Libya — Nineteen-year-old Ibrahim Omar is the only male left in his household. On the morning of April 16, when he returned from a funeral, he discovered that the family home had been ransacked and his cousin, brother-in-law and four elder brothers were gone.
He has heard nothing from them since. “We hear a lot of rumors, but I don’t believe anything; it is very difficult to know where my brothers are,” he said, sitting by a bloodstained rug on the porch of his family’s villa. “Since the revolution began, death has become cheap here.”
Rebel forces cleared Misurata of the last of Moammar Gaddafi’s army last month, but the full extent of the onslaught is just becoming clear. As well as the dead and the damage, there are the hundreds of disappeared.
At an office set up to investigate these cases, men milled about offering family members forms to list the names and details of those who disappeared. On May 30, a total of 1,174 people had been registered as missing.
In a borrowed room where he now stays, Baaya Issa, 90, described how his four sons, six grandsons and a cousin disappeared when they returned to collect possessions from their home after the rest of the family fled to a safer area of the city. Soon after the men arrived at the house, Gaddafi’s troops entered the area. Days later, Issa heard from a neighbor who had witnessed Gaddafi’s troops raid homes nearby.
“We don’t know how many days they stayed at the house,” he said. “We tried to find any way to call them, but we couldn’t. There were no communications.” Issa has heard no news since then and is growing desperate. “I want to hear any news about my sons. I just want to know if they are dead or alive.”
Others witnessed their relatives being taken hostage.
Her head wrapped in a black flowered scarf, Aisha Ramadan wept as she described the day that troops stormed her modest home, taking her four adult sons and her daughter’s husband. Ramadan said she pleaded with the soldiers not to take her youngest son, Mohammed, 17. “ ‘Take everybody, but leave me Mohammed. He is too young,’ ’’ she told them. “But they didn’t answer me. They just took my sons and left.”
Tarek Abdul-Hadi, who heads the committee for missing people here in Misurata, said some of the missing have been interviewed on Libyan state television saying that they had surrendered to Gaddafi’s forces and that they urge other rebels to do the same. Others have been shown attending pro-Gaddafi demonstrations in Tripoli, the capital. There have also been reports of captured people being used in combat, Abdul-Hadi said.
“We’ve seen some of them used as human shields here in Misurata on the front line,” he said.
Abdul Hadi Eshtiwy saw his 81-year-old father’s car at a demonstration in Misurata after he disappeared March 16. His father, Mohammed, had left the house in his car that morning but failed to return for the afternoon prayer. Three days of exhaustive searches found nothing. His uncle, Eshtiwy Khalil Eshtiwy, 63, is also missing.
Eshtiwy cannot understand why soldiers would take an 81-year-old man. “This is a youth revolution,” he said. “My father and uncle had no relation to the rebels, even when the demonstrations started.”
But despite his concern about his father, he does not regret the changes in Libya. “We’ve been waiting for this revolution for 41 years,” he said.
Walker is a special correspondent.