Toppled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi will be buried in a secret desert grave, a National Transitional Council official said, ending a wrangle over his rotting corpse.
“He will be buried tomorrow in a simple burial with sheikhs attending the burial. It will be an unknown location in the open desert,” the official said on Monday, adding that the decomposition of the body had reached the point where the “corpse cannot last any longer”.
The bodies of Gaddafi, his son Mutassim and a former aide have been moved from a commercial freezer in a Misrata warehouse, a security guard said.
Salem al-Mohandes, the security guard, said the bodies were moved late on Monday from the freezer, where they had been on display for the past four days. “Our job is finished,” said al-Mohandes. “He (Gaddafi) was transferred and the military council of Misrata took him away to an unknown location. I don’t know whether they buried him or not.”
An AP Television News team saw three vehicles leave the warehouse area late on Monday. The team then entered the freezer and found it empty.
With the decay of the body forcing the NTC leadership’s hand, it appeared to have decided that an anonymous grave would at least ensure the plot did not become a shrine.
An NTC official had told the Reuters news agency several days ago that there would be only four witnesses to the burial, and all would swear on the Koran never to reveal the location.
Another NTC official said Gaddafi’s long-time heir apparent Saif al-Islam was set to flee Libya.
“He’s on the triangle of Niger and Algeria. He’s south of Ghat, the Ghat area. He was given a false Libyan passport from the area of Murzuq,” the official added.
“The region is very, very difficult to monitor and encircle,” he said. “The region is a desert region and it has … many, many exit routes.”
Gaddafi loyalists ‘executed’
On Monday, New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned of a “trend of killings, looting and other abuses” by those who had fought against Gaddafi.
HRW said it had found 53 decomposing bodies, apparently Gaddafi loyalists, in Sirte, and that there were indications they may have been executed by revolutionary forces.
The bodies were found on the lawn of the abandoned Mahari hotel, and some had their hands bound.
Peter Bouckaert, a researcher for HRW, said the hotel had been under the control of NTC fighters from Misrata before the killings took place.
The condition of the bodies suggested that the men had been killed between October 15 and 19, HRW said.
Bloodstains on the grass and spent cartridges indicated that some were shot and killed at the spot they were discovered.
“This latest massacre seems part of a trend of killings, looting, and other abuses committed by armed anti-Gaddafi fighters who consider themselves above the law,” Bouckaert said in a statement.
NTC fighters in Misrata, a city that had been besieged by Gaddafi’s troops for weeks earlier this year, had no immediate comment.
The United States State Department termed the report “extremely disturbing”, while Gene Cretz, the US ambassador to Libya, had “raised it with the National Transitional Council today and asked them to conduct a full investigation,” according to a State department spokesperson..
Earlier, the NTC has ordered an investigation into the death of Gaddafi after international pressure to examine the circumstances surrounding his death.
A commission of inquiry is being put in place to investigate the killing of Gaddafi, who was captured by NTC fighters outside Sirte on Thursday and shot shortly afterwards, apparently while being transported to Misrata.
“In response to international calls, we have started to put in place a commission tasked with investigating the circumstances of Muammar Gaddafi’s death in the clash with his circle as he was being captured,” Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the NTC, said at a news conference in Bengazi on Monday.
Abdel Jalil also announced that the process of forming a new interim government was already under way, and would be completed “within two weeks”.
He said all Libyans “wanted to try [Gaddafi] for what he has done to them. From executions, to imprisonment, to throwing away the Libyan wealth … or using that wealth against the Libyan people”.
The NTC chairman also said Gaddafi may have been killed by his own loyalists in order to escape being implicated by him in any trial.
“Some people may have wanted him to have been tried to extend their feeling of relief at his downfall,” said Abdel Jalil.
“Free Libyans wanted Gaddafi to spend as much time in prison as possible and feel humiliation as much as possible.”
The NTC has insisted that Gaddafi was killed in “crossfire” between NTC fighters and pro-Gaddafi loyalists after his capture from a drainage pipe outside his hometown of Sirte.
Some members of the NTC, as well as of the international community, have expressed doubt over this version of events.
The US, Britain and international rights groups have all called for an investigation into how Gaddafi was killed in what appeared to be one of the final acts of Libya’s eight-month civil war.
Critics have also said that the fact that Gaddafi’s body, along with that of his son Mutassim, was put on display raises questions about the NTC’s commitment to the rule of law.
Explosion in Sirte
Meanwhile, in Sirte, a fuel storage unit exploded on Monday, killing at least 50 people.
The cause of the blaze was unknown, but residents say that it was due to an electrical fault, and that the depot, the only such facility avaiilable to Sirte’s residents, had previously been bombed by NATO.
“There is no other source for petrol in the area of Sirte except for here. It was bombed by NATO before, and there is some damage to its electric system,” said Saeed, a resident of Sirte.
“Electricity was reconnected for half an hour, and the fuel storage unit exploded. This was the reason. Basically the reason is NATO.”
Abdel Jalil said the NTC’s commission would be governed by a religious edict issued by the head of the Islamic Fatwa society.
On Sunday, Abdel Jalil declared the country “liberated” at a ceremony in the eastern city of Benghazi, starting the country on what is planned to be a two-year path to democracy.
At that ceremony, he had announced that Islamic law would be “basic source” of all legislation in the oil-rich country, and that any existing laws that contradict this would be struck down.
While this stipulation exists in the constitution of neighbouring Egypt, Egyptian laws remain largely secular, as opposed to those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, both of which also use Islamic law.
Abdel Jalil outlined several changes to existing laws, including the banning of the paying of interest by banks and the legalisation of polygamy.
On Monday, Abdel Jalil sought to allay concerns that hardline interpretations of Islamic law would be used, saying that he wanted to “assure the international community that we as Libyans are moderate Muslims”.