A recent video emerged Sunday of fighters loyal to Libyan warlord General Khalifa Haftar, massacring suspected Islamic State militants dressed in orange jumpsuits. The footage, initially posted on Libyan social media sites, depicts an apparent mass killing conducted in deliberate and macabre mimicry of IS-style executions.
Eighteen prisoners are seen in the footage being shot in sequence in the back of the head at point-blank range with bursts of semi-automatic gunfire. The blindfolded men are shown kneeling in four rows as the executioners walk up slowly behind them.
The commander at the scene, Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a major in Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army, initially can be seen standing to the side. He reads out the charges and is seen in the video carrying out one of the executions himself. In the video, he says the executions took place July 17.
VOA has been unable to verify the authenticity of the video. The Libyan National Army has not issued a denial of the killings, which come amid mounting allegations of LNA forces torturing and executing prisoners.
Just a day after the apparent killings, U.N. officials urged Haftar, a one-time soldier in the army of the late Libyan dictator Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, to suspend al-Werfalli. Their worry was about previous incidents of summary executions in March and June.
On July 18, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the LNA to investigate allegations of rights abuses. In a briefing in Geneva, the spokeswoman for the U.N.'s human rights agency, Liz Throssell, expressed concern about the safety of those taken prisoner by the LNA, saying they may be at imminent risk of torture and execution.
"Our concern is based on reports suggesting the involvement of the Special Forces, a unit aligned with the LNA, and in particular their field commander, Mahmoud al-Werfalli, in torturing detainees and summarily executing at least 10 captured men," Throssell said.
The video emerged as leaders of two of Libya's rival factions planned to meet Tuesday in Paris to discuss a political deal in talks mediated by French President Emmanuel Macron. The meeting between the head of the U.N.-backed government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, which has struggled to assert authority even in the Libyan capital Tripoli, and Haftar follows discussions between the two rivals in May in Abu Dhabi.
Haftar, who is supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and backs a rival parliament based in the east of the war-torn North African country, has refused to accept the legitimacy of Serraj's government.
His forces have consolidated much of their hold in the east of Libya in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Haftar declared his forces had cleared jihadists from the country's second city, Benghazi, after a three-year campaign. "Benghazi has entered into a new era of safety and peace," he announced on July 5.
Serraj's government has said that Haftar, who has been wooing Moscow, must agree to come under civilian authority for there to be any political deal. Senior figures in a third mainly Islamist grouping formed out of a former parliament, the General National Congress, have said they will have no dealings with Haftar, who fell out with Gadhafi in the 1980s and lived in exile in the United States for more than 20 years.
They argue Haftar wants to return Libya to autocratic rule.
Last month, Haftar told a gathering of eastern tribal leaders that he was thinking of moving militarily against Tripoli. "Our families in Tripoli and our brothers want us to enter," he said. "We can enter, but we want to do it in peace, without spilling blood."
The IS threat in Libya remains potent, say analysts, despite recent defeats at the hands of Haftar's forces and by militias from the town of Misrata, who ousted IS last year from the coastal town of Sirte.
The Atlantic Council, a Washington-based research institution, last month warned in a study, "The temptation to declare Libya ISIS-free should be strongly resisted," it said, using an acronym for the jihadist group. The Atlantic Council also said IS presence in Libya is a symptom of "weak governance, poor security provision, ongoing political crisis, economic stagnation and lack of rule of law."