Killed By NATO, Betrayed by Their Government: Libyan Survivors Look for Answers

By Mustafa Fetouri

January 14, 2023

WHEN THE SO-CALLED “Arab Spring” reached Libya in February 2011, it turned into a civil war.

The world witnessed massive protests of citizens demanding freedom in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, but foreign military intervention played a critical and divisive role in Libya’s bloody spring. 

How did the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) get involved in what should have been an internal issue?

Accusing Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi government of using heavy weapons to suppress demonstrations, the Western world went to the United Nations Security Council.

The council adopted two resolutions in the space of three weeks.

Resolution 1970, adopted on Feb. 26, 2011, imposed harsh sanctions on the country and was followed by Resolution 1973, adopted on March 17, authorizing the use of force against the Libyan government. 

Paragraph 4 of Resolution 1973 contained one magical sentence that green-lighted all U.N. member states to “take all necessary measures” to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas” allegedly under attack by the Qaddafi government.

At this point the U.N. hardly understood what was happening inside Libya, yet it went ahead and, literally, invited any willing state to bomb Libya. 

On March 19, France, the U.S. and UK launched the first sea and air attacks against targets inside Libya.

By the end of March, NATO took over by launching its own military operation, code-named “Unified Protector,” to enforce Resolution 1973, aiming to protect Libyan civilians by imposing a no-fly zone over the country.

At the time the entire Libyan air force and its civilian aircrafts were already grounded by Resolution 1970. More countries like Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar joined the NATO-led campaign. 


On the night of Aug. 4, 2011, Mustafa al-Morabit, his wife Ibtisam, his two sons Mohamed, 5, and Mo’taz, 3, were sleeping in his home in Zlitin, about 170 k.m. east of Tripoli, Libya, when a NATO rocket hit, at 6:30 a.m., killing Ibtisam and their two children.

Until today Mustafa, who survived, still does not know who killed his family or why. 

In Souq al-Juma’a district, east of the capital Tripoli, Mohamed al-Gharari was asleep on the night of June 19 when a NATO missile hit his family home, killing his brother Faraj, 48, sister Karima, 38, her 44-year-old husband ’Abdallah Shihab, and their two children, Jomana, 2, and Khaled, 7 months old. Eight others sustained injuries.

This is the only occasion in which NATO admitted that it might have killed civilians.

Later on the same day, the alliance’s statement said “NATO regrets the loss of innocent civilian lives” and blamed “a weapons system failure” as a possible cause for the strike.

The bombardment continued and civilian causalities kept mounting, but NATO never acknowledged any more civilian deaths despite conducting some 26,000 sorties over Libya. 


The destruction of Libya continued for seven months.

By the time the bombardment stopped, in October 2011, hundreds of civilians were killed, Libya was ruined and ungovernable, and Qaddafi himself was murdered, paving the way for NATO to declare victory as if it had just prevailed over a superpower.

Eleven years later, no one knows exactly how many women, children and elderly Libyans were killed.

While most deaths are well documented, a precise figure has eluded even major international rights groups who investigated what happened.

Amnesty International, for example, puts the death toll at 55 civilians while Human Rights Watch estimates the number to be 72, one-third of whom were children under the age of 8.

In the latest investigation conducted just last year by Airwars, an independent investigation web site, estimated that anywhere from 223 to 403 civilians were killed by NATO air strikes over Libya from March to October.

I conducted numerous eye-witness interviews in 2015 and think the figure is around 200 Libyans killed.

Most of the civilian deaths occurred in residential areas, private homes and farm land in more than 10 cities and towns across western Libya, including Tripoli; Surman, west of Tripoli; Bani Walid in the southwest; and Berga, east of the capital. 

NATO has never investigated the deaths and still does not acknowledge any responsibility.

Over several years I wrote to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, asking for answers, but no one answered my questions.

In October 2015 I attended a NATO-organized event in Madrid, Spain, where I confronted the alliance’s then Deputy Secretary General, Alexander Vershbow and asked whether NATO knew how many civilians were killed in Libya.

He denied that a single civilian ever was killed despite NATO admitting to at least one incident—the aforementioned incident in Souq al-Juma’a. His colleague, Catherine Royle, Political Adviser, Joint Forces Command Brunssum, refused to discuss the issue. 


In 2012, Khaled el-Hamedi, who lost his entire family when NATO destroyed his family residential compound in Surman, in June 2011, brought a case before a Belgian court.

Two years later his lawyer, Jan Fermon, told me that the case was rejected because NATO, as an organization, has diplomatic immunity.

In October 2021, in Paris, France Fermon reported that he is preparing to file a case before the European Court of Human Rights as a last resort to get some kind of acknowledgment and maybe an apology from the alliance.

However the prospects of getting either are pretty slim. 

In 2012, survivor Mohamed al-Gharari appointed a Belgian lawyer to hold NATO accountable.

He paid him several thousand dollars but nothing happened and the lawyer never contacted him again.

Desperate, Al-Gharari turned to me asking if I could get in touch with the elusive Georges Henri Beauthier, the lawyer. I tried several times but in vain. 


The other painful side of the tragedy for NATO victims’ families is purely Libyan.

All successive governments that have come to power in Libya since October 2011 failed to do anything to help them.

They do not seem to think that their fellow Libyan civilians killed by NATO deserve some kind of recognition. 

Worst still, the entire judicial community in Libya, including private lawyers, have for political reasons shunned the issue and hesitated to even meet with the victims’ families.

The latest attempt was last summer when Al-Gharari and Al-Morabit petitioned Libya’s Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate the matter.

Several months later the petition was shelved.

Just last November I wrote to several private lawyers in Tripoli asking whether they would meet some of the victims’ anguished relatives, as a way of supporting them.

I never received any response. 

Until recently, the subject of NATO’s civilian deaths was a taboo in Libya.

Talking about it publically could lead to unpleasant consequences. Libya’s new masters and their supporting militias still view NATO’s 2011 mission favorably since it ended the Qaddafi regime.

They seem to believe that all civilians killed by NATO airstrikes in 2011 were, somehow, directly associated with Qaddafi’s efforts to stay in power. 

Libya today is worse off than it was when NATO ended its air campaign in October 2011, leaving the U.N. to pick up the pieces.

All U.N. efforts to broker a political settlement have so far failed. Last September the U.N. appointed its latest envoy—number eight in 11 years—to revive the political process prioritizing elections.

Abdoulaye Bathily, a former Senegalese minister, is trying to get the Libyan factions to agree to a legislative base for elections to end the long overdue transitional period.

It is unlikely that he will get anywhere, given the continuing foreign meddling in the country’s internal affairs and the corrupt political elite.

Elections were planned for Dec. 24, 2021, but they never happened. Some optimistic observers think that elections might be possible by next summer, but that is very unlikely.


Ironically, the 2011 military intervention in Libya was packaged as an obligation for the international community based on the principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) civilians.

The civilian population’s overall situation in the country, after all these years, is much worse than it was when Resolution 1973 was enacted, ostensibly to make Libya a democratic and peaceful country. 

The Libyan experience is a testimony to the difficulties associated with “humanitarian military intervention,” as it violates the U.N. Charter which cherishes the sovereignty of nations.

The involvement of NATO in Libya makes a mockery of everything the U.N. stands for. 

Historically, NATO has never been successfully sued and hardly admitted any wrongdoings in the two other major interventions the alliance undertook in the former Yugoslavia (1999) and Afghanistan (2001-2021).

Almost all major international rights groups accused NATO of killing civilians in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya but the alliance never answered to such accusations.

Al-Gharari, Al-Morabit and El-Hamedi vow to continue their efforts to hold NATO accountable, however unlikely that might be. They are not giving up just yet.

What About Libya?

Libya has been racked by violence since a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew and killed veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Since then, the North African country has been dominated by armed groups, riven by local conflicts, and divided between two bitterly opposed administrations: The UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, and a rival administration in the east affiliated with renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.

The GNA and Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army last Friday signed a “permanent ceasefire” accord after UN-sponsored talks in Geneva.

The deal came four months after Haftar’s Russian and Emirati-backed forces gave up their year-long attempt to seize the capital Tripoli, a battle that killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands.

Dozens of Libyan delegates opened on Monday a political dialogue via video conference as a step towards holding elections after the landmark agreement.

But the ceasefire does not provide “a clear commitment and a pathway to accountability for the serious crimes” perpetrated by the foreign-backed warring parties, Salah noted.

“This includes indiscriminate attacks that killed civilians, destruction of critical infrastructure, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and unlawful killings,” she said.

Another “flaw”, according to the rights group, is the absence of any commitment in the deal to holding accountable fighters who stand to be demobilized and integrated into state security forces.

On Wednesday, a committee tasked by the GNA to search for missing people said on its Facebook page that a dozen bodies had been unearthed in newly found mass graves in the Tarhuna region.

This brings the total number of bodies allegedly discovered in mass graves in that area to 98 since the withdrawal in June of Haftar’s forces from western Libya.

In June, the UN’s Human Rights Council, with the support of the GNA, adopted a resolution calling for a fact-finding mission to be sent to the North African country to document abuses committed there by all parties since 2016.

Destroying Libya to ‘save it’

“If separation is not possible, Israel will increasingly run the risk of becoming a binational, Arab-Jewish state. That would compromise the Zionist mission and its Jewish-democratic ethos, and tear at the fabric that has bound America and Israel together.”

The White House’s policy advisor and Israeli lobby official Dennis Ross claimed that “up to 100,000 people could be massacred, and everyone would blame us for it.”
Ross has produced no proof of a massacre—and Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen both confirmed, “We’ve seen no confirmation whatsoever.”
Russian military has been monitoring the unrest via satellite from the very beginning, and they say that the claimed “slaughter” is imaginary. CIA √

Libyans are already reeling from nine years of conflict in which families have been bombed out of their homes, health care facilities have been destroyed, infrastructure has crumbled, and the economy has collapsed, Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said at the end of a visit to the country this week.

“In Benghazi and Tripoli, I saw first-hand how civilians are suffering because of the catastrophic consequences of this conflict,” said Maurer. “

Neighbourhoods on the former front lines in Tripoli are badly scarred and families have little if anything to return to.

People are also at risk of being killed or injured by dangerous unexploded munitions. At the same time, infrastructure all over the country is falling apart.

People have little electricity, drinking water, sanitation, or medical care in the middle of a growing pandemic.”

In Benghazi, Maurer met with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), followed by a meeting in Tripoli with Fayez Al-Sarraj, head of the Presidential Council and Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya.

In Benghazi, he also met leadership of the Libyan Red Crescent, which has been playing a role in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

The conflict has battered Libya’s health system. Hospitals and clinics have been damaged in the fighting, while others were forced to shut their doors because they were close to the frontlines.

Other facilities are decaying from underinvestment.

The visitor that nobody invited and everybody hated

The story has now become part of historical fact distortion, lies and fabrications that led not only to the destruction of Libya, but the killing of Gaddafi, and transforming the once stable and safe country into lawlessness and endless wars.

August 6, 2020

The French self-proclaimed philosopher, author and journalist Bernard-Henri Levy, infamously known as “BHL”, suddenly appeared in Libya on an unannounced visit.

Landing in Misrata, he went on to visit Khoms and Tarhuna where he inspected the site of mass graves recently discovered after General Khalifa Haftar’s forces were chased out at the end of May.

The unannounced visitor prompted hundreds of Libyans to take to social media condemning the visit, the visitor and whoever invited him to the country he helped destroy, as many have claimed.

BHL’s connection to Libya is bitterly remembered by the majority of Libyans who witnessed what happened to their country in 2011.

BHL might have expected a rosy welcome, but instead he was almost shot.

Back then, BHL, a close friend of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, came to eastern Libya at the height of the troubles in the country in what was dubbed “The Arab Spring”.

Left: Bernard-Henri Levy, Right: French President Nicolas Sarkozy

From Benghazi, using a satellite phone, BHL started contacting his friend at the Elysée telling him what he is witnessing and encouraging him to intervene militarily against the Libyan government and the rule of the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

France, based on BHL’s lies, supported by extremely biased media reports on the events in Libya, led the military intervention hours before even the United Nations Security Council voted on its notorious Resolution 1973, on 17 March 2011.

That resolution authorized military intervention by any willing state to “protect” civilians.

The main task is not only to “defeat ISIS”, but also to seize the oil fields

While in eastern Libya, BHL was given unprecedented access to tribal meetings and even to frontline military operations rooms just set up by the many armed groups who sprung up to fight the government.

He also played a central role in pushing Sarkozy to recognise the rebels’ alternative provisional government in eastern Libya as the only legitimate government in the country.

The rest of the story has now become part of historical fact distortion, lies and fabrications that led not only to the destruction of Libya, but the killing of Gaddafi, and transforming the once stable and safe country into lawlessness and endless wars.

This prompted many Libyans, including those who wanted Gaddafi’s fall nine years ago, to hate Levy so much that they felt humiliated by his visit.

Another reason Libyans neither like nor welcome him in their country, is the fact that he is one of the firmest supporters of the Zionist state and an astonishing denier of Palestinian legal rights under international law.

Israel propagandist Bernard-Henri Lévy in Libya to support Turkish ...

Wars for “israel”

Many Libyans, even today, refer to the 17 February revolution as “BHL’s revolution”, and those who fought against the legitimate government in 2011 as “NATO revolutionaries”.

BHL’s role in what happened is always in the minds of every Libyan, even those who never knew who BHL really is.

Against this backdrop comes his visit on 25 July and the political storm it created in the country.

Libyans across the political spectrum agreed on one thing – BHL must go home now.

When the news broke, Libyan officials found themselves in an embarrassing situation as public anger mounted.

Firstly, the mayor of Misrata, where BHL’s private plane landed, published a statement on his municipality’s Facebook page denying any knowledge of the unwanted visitor.

Then Minister of Interior Fathi Bashaga, a Misratan himself and widely suspected to have arranged the visit, tweeted: “The Government of National Accord did not invite any journalist to visit Libya.”

Without mentioning BHL by name, the minister went on to say that his ministry did not have anything to do with the visit, nor the visitor himself.

The prime minister’s office followed suit in rejecting the visit.

In a 25 July statement, it announced “we know nothing about Bernard-Henri Levy’s visit,” promising an investigation and punishment to whoever invited BHL to the country.

At the airport in Nice Lévy got blasted by l’entarteur like never before. The pie was giant size, and the cream made him look like a Yeti while he fumbled around and screamed bloody murder.

BHL left on 26 July after a short visit which he described as a “journalistic mission” on behalf of the French publication Paris Match and The Wall Street Journal.

In a 31 July tweet, days after leaving Libya, BHL stated that his convoy was ambushed but: “The [accompanying] officers helped me escape [the bullets] and do my work.”

His report was later published by The Wall Street Journal. A video posted on his Twitter account showing the ambush went viral on Libyan social media pages.

Those opposing the visit are angry about France’s support to Haftar’s war on Tripoli, which ended in defeat late last May.

But the majority of people on social media believe BHL was indeed “the godfather of the 17 February revolution” nine years earlier, putting Libya on a free fall ever since.

One Facebook user by the name Salem Akhras wrote: “This man [BHL]  is the godfather of the destruction of Libya.”

What really angered the majority of people, is the denial from almost every official that the entire government knew nothing about BHL’s visit.

For him to arrive in a private plane means that he not only obtained the Libyan visa from a Libyan embassy or while at the airport, but he also secured manding and take-off for the plane.

A passport control officer informed me anonymously that: “There is no way they [government] do not know about BHL’s visit.

It is not possible for him to enter the country unless he had a visa and landing permission.”

The prime minister’s office on 29 July ordered a special committee to conduct a thorough investigation of the visit and report back within five days.

It is unlikely that anything will come of such a probe.

Libyans are doubtful to ever know how BHL secured permission to visit their country after all that happened.

The visit only enhances their belief that their country lost its sovereignty years ago, even regarding small matters like a visit from BHL, and it will be years before gaining it back.

Regime change enthusiasts everywhere please take note

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“It appears people do still care about Libya even if the political elites in Paris, London, and Washington who destroyed the country have moved on. Though we should recall that British foreign secretary Boris Johnson was caught on tape in a private meeting last year saying Libya was ripe for UK investment, but only after Libyans “clear the dead bodies away.”  

We previously detailed in Libya’s Slave Auctions And African Genocide: What Hillary Knew how Libya went from being a stable, modernizing secular state to a hellhole of roving jihadist militias, warring rival governments, and open-air slave auctions of captured migrants.

Yet what the viral photos confirm is that Libya was once a place of sprawling hotels, wide and clean city streets, functioning infrastructure, and lively neighborhoods. But these very places are now bullet-ridden ruins rotting amidst the political backdrop of the ‘Mad Max’ style chaos unleashed immediately after US-NATO’s bombing the country into regime change.

Hillary still says that she has no regrets even after Obama timidly voiced a half-hearted and too-little-too-late Libya mea culpa of sorts in 2016.

Though Hillary’s beloved Libyan Al Qaeda …”rebels” — legitimized and empowered through broad support from the West — are now among the very militias hosting slave auctions and fueling the European refugee crisis, she’s never so much as hinted that regime change in Libya left the country and much of the region in shambles. Instead, she simply chose to conclude her role in the tragic story of Libya with her crazed and gleeful declaration of “we came, we saw, he died.”

Regime change enthusiasts everywhere please take note of what your blind jingoism has wrought.

A year before the NATO bombing of Libya the UN Development Programme (UNDP) assigned a Human Development Index (HDI) ranking of 53 to Libya (out of 169 countries ranked, Libya ranked highest on the African continent).

Right up until the eve of NATO’s air campaign against the Libyan state, international media outlets understood and acknowledged the country’s high human development rankings, though it later became inconvenient to present the empirical data. A February 2011 BBC report is a case in point.

The 2011 war and aftermath created a failed state with a once economically independent population now turned largely dependent on foreign aid and relief. 

Currently considered to be at “emergency levels” of need, prior to NATO intervention Libya was not even on the Word Food Program’s radar, yet is now considered a dire humanitarian disaster zone.

Libya photos from 2000 and from 2018. Thank you Hillary…


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