Libyan rebels caught inflating their ‘martyr numbers’


Rod Nordland
New York Times
September 17, 2011

TRIPOLI, Libya — Where are all the dead?

Officially, according to Libya’s new leaders, their martyrs in the struggle against the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi should number 30,000 to 50,000, not even counting their enemies who have fallen.

Yet in the country’s morgues, the war dead registered from both sides in each area so far are mostly in the hundreds, not the thousands. And those who are still missing total as few as 1,000, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Those figures may be incomplete, but even if the missing number proves to be three times as high, and all are dead, the toll would be far short of official casualty totals.

On Friday, anti-Qaddafi fighters attacked the two remaining strongholds of the loyalist forces, in the seaside city of Surt and the desert town of Bani Walid. Although both assaults were repulsed by determined resistance from the pro-Qaddafi forces, there can be little doubt that the war is in its final phases. And as it winds down, the question of how many died is taking on greater significance.

The death toll from the Libyan uprising is unarguably horrendous, even if it does not fit neatly into the former rebels’ narrative of a David-and-Goliath struggle against a bloodthirsty regime that slaughtered tens of thousands of the helpless and the innocent. It has also become a politically delicate issue, with some new government officials refusing to release hard statistics on casualties and human rights groups cautious about taking a definitive position.

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