Tripoli // ISIL has unlawfully executed dozens of people in its Libyan stronghold of Sirte, said Human Rights Watch on Wednesday in a report documenting the extremist group’s atrocities.
The New York-based watchdog recounts scenes of horror that followed the city’s seizure by ISIL militants in February 2015 – including instances of crucifixions and shooting a man to death for “cursing God”. The group has also been accused of diverting food, medicine, fuel and cash from the port city.
At least 49 people had been killed by methods including decapitation and shooting for alleged crimes including blasphemy, sorcery and spying, HRW said in a report based on a series of interviews conducted in March this year.
“The Sirte residents described public beheadings, corpses in orange jumpsuits hanging from scaffolding in what they termed ‘crucifixions’ and masked fighters snatching men from their beds in the night,” it said in the 41-page report entitled “‘We Feel We Are Cursed’: Life under ISIS in Sirte, Libya”.
“They said morality police aided by informants patrolled the streets, threatening, fining or flogging men for smoking, listening to music, or failing to ensure their wives and sisters were covered in loose black abayas.”
“ISIS also has kidnapped and disappeared dozens of Libyan militia fighters, many of whom are presumed dead,” said HRW, citing exiled councillors and fighters from groups opposed to it.
The report said ISIL operatives had looted and destroyed the homes of those seen as enemies, as well as forced the closure of shops specialising in lingerie or western clothing.
One resident, Ahlam, 30, described life in Sirte as unbearable with everyone living in fear and innocent people being killed.
“There are no groceries, the hospital has no doctors or nurses, there is no medicine ... There are spies on every street. Most people have left but we are trapped. We don’t have enough money to leave,” she was quoted as saying.
ISIL seized Sirte almost a year ago, exploiting the chaos in Libya as rival militias and governments battled for power in the wake of the 2011 revolt that ousted and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
It has been seeking to expand westwards from the city, and Europe fears the radicalised group could use its port and airport as a springboard to attack the continent.
The HRW report comes just days after the United States and other western countries threw their support behind Libya’s newly formed and UN-brokered government, saying they would supply the government with weapons to counter ISIL.
The move is also seeking to end the power struggle that started in 2014 between a Tripoli-based parliament and a rival assembly, seated in eastern Libya.
* Agence-France Presse and Associated Press