THE young Libyan soldier showed almost no emotion as he described how his unit had raped four sisters, the youngest about 16, after breaking into a home in the besieged port of Misratah.
“My officer sent three of us up to the roof to guard the house while they tied up the father and mother and took the girls to two rooms, two each to a room,” said Walid Abu Bakr, 17.
“My two officers and the others raped the girls first,” he recalled in a monotone, still dressed in the camouflage uniform he was wearing when he surrendered 12 days ago. They were playing music. They called me down and ordered me to rape one of the girls.”
Abu Bakr, from Traghen, a poor southern town, claimed he had been given hashish and was not responsible.
“She did not move much when I raped her,” he said, admitting the girl had already been gang-raped. “She said in a low voice, ‘There is Allah. He is watching you.’ I said, ‘Yes, Allah is watching me’.”
Abu Bakr seemed to regard himself as a victim, however. He said he had become his family’s breadwinner after his father left his sick mother and his siblings.
He joined the army when he was offered 200,000 dinars ($155,000), payable on victory for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, he said. But he had received only a week’s training at Yarmouk camp in Tripoli before being sent to Misratah as part of a militia attached to the elite Khamis brigade, named after Gaddafi’s youngest son. Their mission was simple. “We were just told to kill,” Abu Bakr said. The teenager said he did not keep track of how many times the four girls in the house had been raped. The soldiers in his unit had stolen 12,000 dinars and jewellery from the family, but he had not received a penny, he said.
When rebel forces began closing in on the airport road, the officers sent the family to Zliten, the next town controlled by Gaddafi’s troops, and left, ordering Abu Bakr and eight others to guard the house. They never returned.
“The rebels surrounded us and we threw away our guns and surrendered,” he said.
Abu Bakr, who is now held in a Misratah school with other former Gaddafi soldiers while the rebels decide what to do with them, said he had decided to speak about the rapes after talking to an Islamic cleric.
Misratah officials said the ruthless assaults by Abu Bakr and his unit had been repeated across the city. Gaddafi’s soldiers, they said, had engaged in an orgy of rapes that mirrored their destruction of the city’s homes and buildings.
Nothing would have prepared the women of Misratah or their families for the ferocity of the onslaught that occurred when they were trapped amid the fighting, mostly in districts that were controlled by Gaddafi’s forces for two months.
The brutality emerged only when the rebels broke through loyalist lines and chased Gaddafi’s troops beyond the city limits. In their wake, they found horror stories. Doctors at Hekma hospital found some of Gaddafi’s soldiers had recorded video footage of rapes on their mobile phones. “They made the girls identify themselves to the camera and show their faces. Then they raped them,” one doctor said. The phones were found on loyalists who had been wounded or killed.
“In one of the videos, there’s a woman. She’s moaning, ‘Oh, no, no, the sixth one, God help me’,” said one doctor.
Another video shows a group of Gaddafi’s soldiers in camouflage uniform breaking down a door and confronting a frightened family – a man, a woman, five girls whose ages range from about five to early 20s, and a boy aged about 7. The soldiers, shouting and waving their guns, stripped the four older girls in front of the family and took them into the next room where they raped the young women. The girls screamed and cried for mercy, calling on Allah. A soldier at one point yells: “Gaddafi is our Allah.”
The video was found on the phone of a loyalist soldier.
A Filipina nurse said her best friends had fled to Tunisia after their four daughters and 13-year-old son were raped repeatedly after the family was trapped in their flat on Tripoli Street, the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in Misratah.
“I spoke to their mother,” the nurse said. “She said the boy was terrible. She said, ‘Don’t even ask about my girls’.”
So horrified is Misratah by the rapes that young rebel soldiers have offered to marry the victims, who face ostracism in this deeply traditional society.
“The rebels feel guilty that they did not arrive in time to save these families from Gaddafi’s men,” said Ismael Fortia, an obstetrician who estimates that up to 1000 women may have been raped.
Hardly any of those attacked have come forward because a raped woman is regarded as virtually unmarriageable if she is single, or a shame to her family if she is married.
Doctors and psychologists in Misratah have banded together to help. They will check victims for sexually transmitted diseases and offer abortions. One of their concerns is that unless they are treated, the women will suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, and may commit suicide rather than live with their memories.
“The images of their rape will go around and around in their heads, like an endless nightmare, unless they receive counselling and help,” said Mustafa Shigmani, a doctor.
The terrible revelation comes as Misratah’s rebels fight on three fronts around the city, loyalists try almost daily to mine the port and explosions reverberate day and night.
The people of Misratah have suffered the greatest toll in the Libyan conflict, largely because their city has been so bitterly contested by Gaddafi. It is the only population centre in the west of the country that is under rebel control.
In districts liberated by the rebels, residents described a reign of terror under Gaddafi’s soldiers.
“The soldiers ordered our family out of the house while they searched,” said Fatima, 47, of the Zreig neighbourhood.
“They said they were looking for weapons, but they took our money, our jewellery, everything they could carry while we waited for three hours.”
Families were forced to fly the green flag of the regime. Foot patrols raided homes at all hours. “They would shoot up the television if you were watching anything other than the state channel,” said Fawzi Damir, 21.
Men disappeared. “They caught my husband and two of my sons,” said Fatima, explaining that the men would usually flee if they spotted loyalists on their street. Two weeks ago, however, they had been taken unawares early in the morning. One son escaped by hiding under her bed.
City officials have said more than 1000 men, women and children have disappeared.
Some residents took to the streets last week to celebrate an end to the shelling of the city centre. They waved flags and shouted with joy. They were the lucky ones. One unforgivable legacy of Gaddafi is that many women of Misratah will never again emerge from their homes and think only of the beautiful sunshine.