Libyan commander wanted for war crimes by ICC shot dead | Middle East News
Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a senior Libyan army official loyal to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar and wanted for suspected war crimes, was shot dead by unidentified assailants in the eastern town of Benghazi, doctors said.
The gunmen opened fire on a vehicle carrying al-Werfalli on Wednesday, seriously injuring him and his cousin, Ayman, a source who requested anonymity from the AFP news agency said. The two men were pronounced dead upon arrival at Benghazi medical center, located near the scene of the shooting, another security source said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Born in 1978, al-Werfalli was a commander in an elite unit attached to Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), a coalition of forces that has dominated eastern Libya in recent years.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has twice indicted al-Werfalli for the alleged murder of more than 40 prisoners, including in a 2018 incident in which photographs appeared to show him shooting. 10 prisoners blindfolded.
“Simply, he was a relentless and ruthless killer,” Anas El Gomati, founder of the director of the Sadeq Institute, told Al Jazeera.
“The testimony not only of those documented by the ICC, but also of the hundreds of families documented by Human Rights Watch [HRW] and Amnesty International, and thousands of others who live in Benghazi have lived in fear of al-Werfalli. “
In 2018, HRW said it interviewed internally displaced people who said groups linked to the ANL seized their property and tortured, forcibly disappeared and arrested family members who remained in the town.
This month, al-Werfalli was shown in a widely released video raiding a car showroom in Benghazi alongside his uniformed men, smashing furniture and computers as they brandished weapons. .
“Benghazi is becoming the murder capital of North Africa… and many point the finger at al-Werfalli,” El Gomati said, adding that the commander had been promoted by Haftar.
Libya was engulfed in chaos and repeated cycles of conflict following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the main divide in recent years opposing a government based in Tripoli to a loyal administration from the East. in Haftar.
However, fighting broke down last year and an official ceasefire in October was followed by the recent establishment of a new Government of National Unity (GNU), which was chosen as part of the of a process supported by the United Nations. Haftar did not formally participate in the political negotiations.
The two rival administrations this month officially handed over power to the GNU, which has a mandate to lead the country towards the December elections. However, the security situation remains precarious in Benghazi, the main city in the east.
According to El-Gomati, al-Werfalli’s death was a sign of the weakening of the ANL’s position.
“It is a socio-political movement, a phenomenon which is losing ground,” he declared. “He has lost momentum and this would be a major turning point for Haftar – who in recent weeks has faced a number of challenges – from social, political and military dissidents to high commanders of high tribal figures in Libya.
Tarek Megerisi, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said friction between rival factions in eastern Libya had been escalating for some time and could further escalate into a series of retaliatory attacks.
“I think this will be the first major challenge for GNU,” he said.
Besides the challenge of merging Libya’s divided state institutions and preparing for the December elections, the GNU must also tackle a dire security situation with power held by a myriad of factions.
UN Special Envoy Jan Kubis told the Security Council on Wednesday: “Various armed groups continue to operate unhindered, human rights violations continue with almost total impunity.”
GNU Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh last week said his caretaker government would launch an investigation after bodies were found in Benghazi.