THE 22 men lie in groups, face down, inside what appears to be a sheep pen on a desert road. Most have had their hands bound behind them with plastic flexi-cuffs. Each has been shot in the back of the head.

After a week of rumours about human rights abuses, powerful evidence has emerged of at least one mass execution of prisoners in Libya. What is uncertain though, is who the men are and who killed them.

The footage, passed to The Times by Tunisian human rights activists, was filmed on a mobile phone on or around February 23 and uploaded on to the internet.

It came to light as the UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution to impose sanctions on the country’s government for gross human rights violations and to refer evidence to the International Criminal Court.

The phone footage is claimed to show a group of Libyan soldiers who were executed after attempting to desert their posts near Tripoli, but this could not be corroborated.

Some of the dead wear green Libyan army fatigues, others the camouflage uniform of police paramilitary units. A few are in civilian dress.

It appears that they died together in the place where they were found and that they were shot at close range.

Who made the video is unknown but it was taken early in the morning and appears to have been the work of people who feared for their safety. It is one minute and five seconds long.

A man’s voice can be heard saying a traditional Koranic verse for the dead in hastily snatched footage before running back to a group of cars. “Too many dead, too many dead; this is injustice,” he says. Another man calls urgently to the owner of the camera: “Hurry, hurry, maybe someone will see us.”

Yesterday (Tuesday), human rights groups expressed deep concern. Malcolm Smart, Middle East and North Africa director of Amnesty International, said: “Clearly the images here are very disturbing as they show bodies of people who appear to have been killed in cold blood, apparently the victims of extrajudicial executions.”

Whether the killing was the work of Gaddafi loyalists or anti-government forces remains a matter of conjecture.

However, there have been reports that security force chiefs ordered the execution of soldiers.

One reported incident took place at al-Katiba barracks in Benghazi. Ten would-be deserters are said to have been beaten, shot and then burnt.

Idris Foubayed, a Swiss-based doctor and former political prisoner in Libya, said that his family members in the Garian district, west of Tripoli, had given a detailed account of the execution of eight soldiers who refused to fire on protesters on February 22 and 23.

“The soldiers were killed on the order of Colonel Mabruk Sahban,” he said, “the military governor of Garian.”

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