Authors: Joshua Cohan
(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- The brutality of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in its final hours, as the Libyan capital of Tripoli fell to rebel hands, is becoming clearer with the discovery that loyalist soldiers shot prisoners in cold blood, in revenge for their own defeat.
ABC News’ Jeffrey Kofman has seen the evidence, what he describes as “bodies of hundreds of people -- murdered, burned, executed by Gadhafi's soldiers as the city fell into rebel hands last week.”
The concern, Kofman says, is “that there are thousands more, some of whom may be alive and trapped in underground prisons. They don't know where those prisons are. The fear is that if they're not found soon, they will starve to death.”
“We went to what you might call the back shed, behind a military barracks. It was a metal building, not very big. The prisoners were locked inside in really horrendous conditions,” Kofman explained. “As the city was falling last Tuesday, the guards panicked. They told the prisoners ‘we're going to let you out,’ and the prisoners ran. And as they did, they got their machine guns out and just mowed them down.”
But some people survived, Kofman said, and were able to tell their stories.
“These were simply massacres. There's no other word to describe them,” Kofman said.
“In at least one case, there were a couple of Gadhafi soldiers with their hands tied behind their back. The belief is that they refused to shoot and execute their fellow countrymen and they too were killed.”
But Kofman notes that violence is not just one sided and that some of the rebels have committed similar crimes.
“There is real concern that if these revenge killings continue the country will descend into violence again. So there have been appeals from the National Transitional Council, the rebel government, to stop this immediately and move toward reconciliation, rather than recrimination.”
Despite the atrocities, Kofman reports, there are also signs of normal life returning to the streets.
“Today is the day before Eid, the end of the month of Ramadan, which is really, in the Muslim world, Christmas Eve,” Kofman said. “And there's really some delightful scenes cropping up around markets...Children and their mothers and fathers out buying little gifts.
“After what this country's been through for the last six months, it’s inspiring to see the children smiling, mothers and fathers buying them popcorn and the children dreaming of presents that they'll get tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Gadhafi’s whereabouts remain unclear. The Libyan leader has urged loyalists to continue fighting the rebels -- this, as world leaders have in recent days reiterated calls for his resignation.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio