British and Italian war graves desecrated in Libya in anti-Christian outburst
Libya’s leadership has apologised after armed men smashed the graves of British and Italian soldiers killed during World War Two, in an act of vandalism that appeared to be directed against non-Muslims. Amateur video footage of the attack, posted on social networking site Facebook, showed men casually kicking over headstones in a war cemetery and using sledge hammers to smash a metal and stone cross.
One man can be heard saying: “This is a grave of a Christian” as he uprooted a stone headstone from the ground. Another voice in the footage says of the people buried in the cemetery: “These are dogs.”
The attack happened in the eastern city of Benghazi, near where British and Commonwealth troops fought heavy battles against German and Italian forces during the 1939-45 war.
The National Transitional Council (NTC), Libya’s interim leadership since last year’s uprising forced out Muammar Gaddafi, said it would pursue those responsible. “The NTC apologises for the incident with the foreign graves, especially the British and Italian graves,” the council said in a statement. “This action is not in keeping with Islam.”
The NTC has close ties with Western countries after a NATO bombing campaign helped it to oust Gaddafi, and most ordinary Libyans feel no animosity towards the West. However, a minority of hardline Islamists, who are opposed to any non-Muslim presence and in some cases have formed into heavily-armed militias, have gained ground since Gaddafi’s 42-year rule ended last August. The government in Tripoli has struggled to assert its authority over these groups.