Eleven civilians were reported killed as a result of a US airstrike near Al Uwaynat. The event marks the biggest single allegation of civilian harm against the United States in Libya so far.
Initial reports had indicated that the US had targeted Al Qaeda members with a precision strike near the town in the south of Libya. AFRICOM confirmed the strike a days later saying that “U.S. Africa Command conducted a precision airstrike near Al Uwaynat, Libya, November 29, 2018, killing eleven (11) al-Qa’ ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorists and destroying three (3) vehicles.” It added that “at this time, we assess no civilians were injured or killed in this strike.”
On December 2nd, however, SITE Intelligence group reported that “Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), al-Qaeda’s branch in Mali, reportedly rejected the claim by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) that its airstrike in Libya killed 11 al-Qaeda members, alleging instead that the victims were Tuaregs with no connection to the group.”
Two days later protests by Tuaregs in Al Uwaynat followed, claiming those killed in the attack where civilian tribespeople. The Libya Observer wrote: “Members of the Tuareg community gathered in Ubari town in southwestern Libya to condemn in the strongest terms the airstrike conducted by US Africa Command (AFRICOM) near Awaynat town last Thursday, which killed 11 people; AFRICOM claimed they were al-Qaeda militants.
The protesters accused AFRICOM of killing 11 innocent people under the pretext of terrorism and without any evidence substantiating their guilt, denouncing what they described the defamation and the media disinformation campaign against the martyrs of the ‘horrific Awaynat massacre,’ in reference to those killed in the airstrike.
Banners were raised against AFRICOM, accusing it of killing innocent people on charges of terrorism and rejecting the killing and exterminating of Tuareg ‘via phone calls’. The protesters called on the Attorney-General and the Interior Ministry to open an investigation into the attack to determine the facts and circumstances.
In a statement issued during the stand, the tribe members demanded in the name of the persons entitled to claim retaliation and in the name of Tuareg Tribe elders and dignitaries, the Presidential Council, the House of Representatives, and the High Council of State to open an impartial international and local investigation in what they called the ‘Awaynat massacre’ in no more than 48 hours, warning to step up their protest if their demands were not met.”
In addition, the article said that the “statement insisted that the victims included civilians and military personnel, among them, was a field commander in Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous, who fought terrorism in Sirte to offer his country security and stability.”
The statement also described the convoy that was bombed to have been “on its way to rescue a group of Tuareg, near the Algerian border, who were encountering a smuggling gang attempting to smuggle heavy machinery to Algeria.”
Rpoh Libya posted a video of Moses Tony on Facebook, allegedly showing him fighting ISIS in Sirte. The post says he was killed in the “unprovoked” strike.
A Facebook post by “No to the Brotherhood and extremists in Libya” says that Issa Mousi Ahmed Malik Taraki was killed “in an airstrike carried out by AFRICOM by unmanned aerial vehicles, which targeted three four-wheel-drive vehicles belonging to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) while they were in the area of Wadi Filalin-Awainat, north of Ghat. However, there are voices from the Tuareg tribes refusing that the targeted group is linked to Al-Qaeda (Sahel and Sahara), led by the Algerian leader Jamal Akasha and the Meccan Yahia Abualhamam, and that this group was fighting ISIS in Sirte.”
Responding to a second request about the incident by Airwars, AFRICOM stated: “At this time, we still assess that no civilians were injured or killed as part of the Nov. 29 air strike. However, we are aware of reports alleging civilian casualties resulting from the Nov. 29 airstrike near Al Uwaynat. As with any allegation of civilian casualties we receive, U.S. Africa Command will review any information it has about the incident, including any relevant information provided by third parties. If the information supporting the allegation is determined to be credible, USAFRICOM will then determine the next appropriate step. USAFRICOM complies with the law of armed conflict and takes all feasible precautions during the targeting process to minimise civilian casualties and other collateral damage.”
Al Jazeera later published an article with the names of the remaining victims, again quoting locals saying none of them were members of Al Qaeda.
An article in the Intercept published April 3, 2022 gives more information into those killed and details a new criminal complaint filed in Italy regarding the incident. Madogaz Musa Abdullah, the brother of one of the victims, told the Intercept that “AFRICOM killed 11 people on the basis that they were terrorists, but these young men were completely against terrorism. They were killed without evidence. I challenge AFRICOM to produce evidence that even one of these men was on a U.S. target list.” Abdullah, along with a spokesperson for his ethnic Tuareg community and representatives of three nongovernmental organizations, filed a criminal complaint against the former Italian commander at the U.S. air base in Sigonella, Sicily, seeking accountability for his role in the killings. The complaint has asked the public prosecutor’s office in Siracusa, where the base is located, to investigate and prosecute Col. Gianluca Chiriatti and other Italian officials involved in the attack for murder.
Legal documents obtained by the Intercept allegedly show that “most of the men killed were members of the Libyan armed forces; several had previously fought against Al Qaeda or even alongside the United States when it battled the Islamic State in the city of Sirte two years earlier. The men were armed and heading from their homes in Ubari, a village in southwest Libya, toward the Algerian border to assist fellow community members who had been attacked by a gang with whom they were feuding over abandoned construction equipment.”
The complaint also reads that “The eleven victims were not members of Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization and were not combatants: they were travelling to retrieve an excavator that was the subject of a dispute with another group. These murders, committed outside of any armed conflict and therefore qualifying as an extraterritorial law enforcement operation, are in direct contrast with Italian and international regulations on the use of lethal force.”
The community spokesperson, a former employee of the United Nations Development Program who brought the criminal complaint, said that “Musa Ala al-Tuni was a field commander in the armed forces of the GNA army and a member of al-Bayan al-Marsous, the division of the GNA army which fought alongside the United States to drive ISIS out of Sirte. The [Libyan] head of the Sirte operation said publicly that it was impossible for Musa to be associated in any way with terrorist organizations.” Madogaz Musa Abdullah’s younger brother, Nasser, was also a member of the GNA and had been a security officer for former Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani. Abdullah provided Reprieve with Nasser’s military identification card. “Most of the people with my brother in the car at the time were well known and respected as soldiers in the national Armed Forces,” he said in a sworn statement.
AFRICOM spokesperson Kelly Cahalan told The Intercept that “We are aware of the reports of civilian casualties from this strike. U.S. Africa Command followed the civilian casualty assessment process in place at the time and determined that the reports were unsubstantiated. The command’s assessment process draws from information from reliable and layered intelligence sources and classified operational reporting which are not available to the public. This can contribute to perceived discrepancies between the command’s results and those of others.”
An article in Avvenire also detailed the victims of the strikes and described the case being filed in Italy against the commanders responsible for the strikes. According to Avvenire, Al Qaeda “categorically denied” that the killed were members of Al Qaeda with a statement on December 5, 2018. “Seven of the killed – Musa Ala Tuni Mohammed, Ighias Akhreeb Aksasooni, Al Mahmoud Ayoub Ibrahim, Hassan Mohammed Abu Baker al Sagheer, Eyad Mohammad Ighali Mohammed in addition to Nasser Musa – moreover, as evidenced by the documents to which Avvenire had access to, they worked for the armed forces of the government of national agreement, an ally of the West in the fight against ISIS which at the time surrounded Libya. Another two, Ibrahim and Ahmed Umla Mohammed Fono, were training to enter it. Nasser Abdullah was a security guard of the then prime minister Abdullah al-Thani while Musa Mohammed, in 2016, had fought, along with the US, to expel the caliphate of Sirte. The last two that were killed – Ahmed Kober al-Khadeer and Jumma Akhreeb, were a teacher and an educator.”
“From the field surveys carried out, from the analysis of the documents, from the collection of testimony, we can say with certainty that they were eleven innocent people, shot while traveling in the desert in search of scrap vehicles to be resold” said Jennifer Gibson, lawyer for Reprieve. “They did it to feed their families: the prolonged conflict had blocked tourism, a source of livelihood for Tuareg communities” added Francesca Cancellaro, lawyer of the three NGOs.
Avvenire also provided information on the complaint filed in Italy: the complaints claim that the November raid started from the Sigonella base, normally used by AFRICOM as part of the anti-ISIS “Odyssey lightning” air campaign to free Sirte. “The day of the attack, Italmiradar, an organization that tracks air traffic, reported the flight going and returning of a Global Hawk drone from Sigonella towards the area where al-Awaynat is located. Testimony and analysis of the land would indicate, also, that the plane came from the north. The only other two US bases in the region – 101 N’Djamey and 201 Agadez, both in Niger, are south. “The first, in addition, is an hour farther away in respect to Sigonella and there is no evidence that it had been previously used for a raid in Libya. The second, instead, is closer but was equipped with drones only a year after” confirmed Gibson. If, effectively, the drone left from Sicily, the organizations accuse italy of participating in an illegal operation. In 2018, “Odyssey lightning” was over so the US was no longer directly involved in the Libyan conflict. Their actions, therefore, should be placed not in the context of the law of war but in that of human and criminal rights… The complaint wants to ascertain the responsibility of Italy, explained in the 2006 agreement on the use of the Sigonella base by the US, gives a guarantee role and related powers of intervention to prevent any wrongdoings of use.”
The local time of the incident is unknown.