A Libyan militia leader accused of major human rights abuses and sanctioned by the United States was shot dead on Tuesday in eastern Benghazi province, officials said.
Libyan officials said security forces looted Mohamed al-Kani’s house in Benghazi to carry out an arrest warrant on charges of killing civilians. Libyan officials and the United States claim that al-Kani was responsible for the deaths of people found in mass graves last year in the western city of Tarhuna.
Tarhuna, a strategic city about 65 kilometers southeast of the Libyan capital Tripoli, was under the control of the al-Kaniyat militia, which gained a reputation for its brutal tactics. Under al-Kani’s leadership, the militia had originally sworn allegiance to a previous government in Tripoli. But it changed sides in the civil war and was adapted to the eastern-based forces from putschist general Khalifa Haftar in 2019.
Officials said al-Kani was killed in a shootout along with one of his associates. A third man was arrested, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to inform the media.
Mohamed al-Tarhuni, a spokesman for the militia, confirmed al-Kani’s death.
Mass graves were found in Tarhuna last year after the militia’s withdrawal after Haftar’s 14-month campaign to break control of Tripoli.
The US Treasury sanctioned al-Kani and his militia in November after finding them responsible for killing civilians whose bodies were found in several mass graves in Tarhuna. They also claimed that the militia had committed acts of torture, forced disappearances and the expulsion of civilians.
Fatou Bensouda, a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, told the UN Security Council in November that her office worked with the Tripoli government “in relation to these mass graves”, where many bodies were found blindfolded and handcuffed.
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a NATO-backed insurgency overthrew the long-serving dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later assassinated. The country was then divided between rival administrations in the east and west.
Haftar’s offensive in 2019, with the support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, collapsed in June 2020 when the Tripoli government, with the support of Turkey and Qatar, gained the upper hand. A UN-mediated ceasefire was reached in October that stopped hostilities.
The oil-rich Libya is now ruled by a transitional government tasked with preparing the nation for elections in December.