Africa

The massacre at Libya's Khalat al-Farjan compound

Feras Kilani sits in the room where he was tortured
Image caption Feras Kilani sits in the room where he was tortured

A BBC journalist arrested and held by Muammar Gaddafi's forces during the Libya uprising has returned to the prison where he was held to track down some of the wardens and prisoners housed there and to hear first hand accounts of a massacre.

On 8 March 2011, while reporting on the Libya uprising for BBC Arabic TV, I was picked up at an army roadblock near Tripoli along with two BBC colleagues.

We were imprisoned, beaten and subject to mock executions at Khalat al-Farjan farm behind the Yarmouk headquarters just outside Tripoli. But we were some of the lucky ones. After 22 hours we were released.

A few months later, many of the inmates would be killed, when with rebel forces approaching the capital, the guards were ordered to kill all the prisoners.

Image caption Hussein survived the massacre unlike his three brothers

The compound where I was held was the scene of one of the worst atrocities recorded in the conflict.

Hussein al-Lafi and his three brothers were among 50 prisoners crowded into a small warehouse when the prison guards attacked.

"We saw them throwing hand grenades inside," said Hussein, saying the first one landed right in the middle of the room amongst the men.

He names a man who he says took a leading role in the attack.

"Between the second and third grenade, Ibrahim Tajouri came in and started shooting," he said.

Hussein told me how he called out to his three brothers in the warehouse, but none of them survived the attack.

"After the shooting stopped, I pushed the dead bodies off me."

Hussein's first brother Jamal was lying on top of a pile of bodies. "His eyes were open, I called him, 'Jamal, Jamal' and he didn't answer."

His second brother Usama had been hit in the heart and in the shoulder and the bottom of his leg was missing.

His older brother Mohammad was next to the wall. "I touched him and I could feel that his leg was missing. He said to me: 'Run away, save yourself, and go tell the world that we've been slaughtered'."

In the confusion of the explosions and the shooting Hussein was one of the few prisoners who managed to escape.

Those left behind did not stand a chance. The soldiers finished off any wounded survivors one by one and set the place on fire.

'Kill the prisoners'

A few days after the massacre, Ibrahim Tajouri gave himself up to the rebel authorities who had now taken over the city. He has been in custody ever since.

He faces charges over the massacre, but he waived his right to anonymity to tell his story. He alleges he was following orders from his superior.

"When the rebels entered Tripoli, Mohammad Mansour - the prison commander - gave orders to kill the prisoners.

"He came to the detention centre where the prisoners were being held, he threatened us with his gun and said that we must kill them now, so we got some hand grenades and threw them at the prisoners."

The whereabouts of Mohammad Mansour are not currently known.

I asked Tajouri how he feels about what he did now.

"I took drugs, I wasn't in control of my actions. My conscience is full of guilt because of what I have done. I ask them for forgiveness."

Another prisoner, Bashir al-Sadeq, was also held in the warehouse and witnessed Tajouri's role in the attack.

"Yes, he came inside and emptied more than three magazines," he said.

Hussein and Bashir agreed to come with me to face Ibrahim Tajouri for the first time since the massacre.

Bashir confronted Tajouri. "When you entered, you finished off a group which included Sheikh Mohammed Allafi. He was kneeling down and you shot him in the back. That was my brother.

"Then you turned and you shot the group which included the Egyptians and the old Palestinian man who was about 80 years old. You emptied nearly four magazines.

"You killed Sheikh Ramadhan when you turned towards him and shot him four times - Don't tell me you don't remember."

"I don't remember," said Tajouri. "I was under the influence of drugs."

I asked Tajouri what he has to say to the two men who have suffered so much. "I would ask them for forgiveness. Forgiveness in this life and the next," he responded.

But Hussein, who lost his three brothers was not convinced. "If I had a weapon I would finish him off," said Hussein. "But we hope he will be tried quickly."

"Is there any chance for reconciliation?" I asked Bashir. "As far as reconciliation is concerned," he responded, "after they have been punished by the law, then national reconciliation can take place.

"But without justice there can be no reconciliation."

Tajouri is still in jail with no prospect of a day in court.

Libya's Torture Farms will be screened on BBC Arabic TV on Monday 30 April, 2012 at 19:07 GMT

Around the BBC