Isil using crucifixion as a message to Libyan 'spies'
Published 05/02/2016 | 02:30
With their prime position on a busy thoroughfare, the billboards on the Zafaran roundabout in the Libyan city of Sirte used to be one of the best spots for local businesses to advertise.
Today, however, the message that they carry is not one that passing motorists care to linger over.
With Colonel Gaddafi's home city now firmly in the grip of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) militants, the billboards' rusting black gantries are now used for crucifixions of anyone accused of "spying" against the regime.
The corpses of murdered suspects are strung up as a graphic warning to others, with the victims' families prevented from retrieving their bodies for burial.
The crucifixions are part of a raft of grisly punishments enforced by Isil since it seized power in Sirte a year ago, pushing out Libyan security forces from neighbouring Misrata after a series of fierce battles.
With the West now preparing to back Libya's government in a battle to retake the city, fighters from Misrata have begun to venture undercover into Sirte on intelligence-gathering missions.
Such undercover forays help build a ground-level picture in a way that overhead drones and spy satellites never can.
But as one fighter explained during my recent visit to Misrata, it carries a high risk of getting caught.
"Three of our men have been already caught and killed, and two more are missing," said "Osama" (23), who took part in the uprising against Colonel Gaddafi five years ago.
"We don't know what has happened to them both."
Twelve hours after he spoke to me, he found out.
A phone call came from an informants that one of his two missing men, 37-year-old Milad Aburgeeba, had become the latest victim on display at the roundabout.
"They got your boy and crucified him," the caller said.
Contrary to popular perception, crucifixion as practised by Isil does not mean nailing hands and feet into a cross and leaving the victim to die. Instead, the victim is usually killed beforehand, and then left for several days afterwards, rather like the gibbets that were used in medieval Britain.
Mr Aburgeeba spent two days strung up on the gantry, his hands and feet hung up by plastic cords. In mimicry of inmates of Guantanamo Bay, he was clad in an orange jumpsuit, while a message was taped to his body with the word "spy".
Judging from pictures of the incident, which Osama forwarded to me via mobile phone, but which are too graphic to publish - his face was disfigured from torture.
Isil is now believed to have an army of nearly 3,000 fighters in Sirte, some of them senior figures from its core leadership in Iraq and Syria, others footsoldiers from sub-Saharan Africa lured partly by the prospect of decent pay.
America and Britain are now trying to persuade Libya's new government - formed last month after more than a year of infighting - to accept help in the fight against Isil before it starts using Libya as a launch pad to attack Europe.
The package on offer includes 1,000 British troops and 5,000 Italian troops as part of a training mission, along with promises of air support and logistical help.
While British and American special forces are believed to be in the area gathering intelligence on the situation in Sirte, they will rely in part on local Libyan informants - something Isil's own intelligence network is all too aware of.
The group has already issued at least two previous videos showing "spies" being crucified for allegedly gathering information on Isil military positions.
In one video, a man was strung up in the crucifixion position alive first, and then shot dead.
Other cases have featured three brothers accused of eating during fasting time in the holy month of Ramadan, and a group of men accused of encouraging an anti-Isil uprising in August.
"It is a horrific thing to do," Osama added. "This is the price our fighters pay for getting intelligence to defeat Isil." (© Daily Telegraph London)