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Fury over attack on British war graves in Benghazi

Category: Headlines

Published: 4th Mar 2012 12:45:52

Attacks on the graves of British servicemen in Benghazi, Libya, have been described as "appalling" by Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne.

The Foreign Office said 200 graves and a Cross of Remembrance were damaged at the Benghazi British Military Cemetery.

The Benghazi War Cemetery was also targeted. Both cemeteries commemorate British and Commonwealth nationals who died during or after World War II.

The Libyan authorities apologised and pledged to catch those responsible.

The damage was "unethical, irresponsible and criminal", the ruling National Transitional Council said.

Liberal Democrat minister Mr Browne condemned the attacks but said he did not believe that only British or Christian graves had been targeted.

Both cemeteries will be restored to a standard befitting the sacrifice of those commemorated at Benghazi”

"My grandfather's generation were truly heroic in that part of Africa in the Second World War and I think people will be shocked by what they see," he told the Sky News Murnaghan programme.

"It is worth saying the Libyan authorities themselves are shocked too.

"They have been extremely apologetic and made a very strong commitment they will get to the bottom of this. They will try and do everything they can to resolve it."

He added: "I would not want people to think this is somehow an ingratitude by the government of Libya. That's not the case."

Video footage made by the attackers showed about a dozen armed men kicking down headstones and trying to damage a cross.

The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse, in Tripoli, said the attackers referred to "Christian dogs" and a Jewish memorial was also targeted.

Our correspondent said the attack was "calm, almost casual".

It is believed the attack could have been carried out in retaliation for the burning of the Koran by US soldiers at a military base in Afghanistan last month.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "On 24 and 26 February over 200 headstones and the Cross of Remembrance in the Commonwealth War Graves Benghazi British Military Cemetery were deliberately damaged, as were approximately a quarter of the headstones in the Benghazi War Cemetery."

The Benghazi War Cemetery, which was vandalised first and where the footage was taken, contains the remains of servicemen killed during the Second World War.

The Military Cemetery was used for the military personnel and their dependants stationed in Libya following the war.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) said on its website that headstones were "broken and disfigured" at both cemeteries, which are roughly a mile apart.

A spokesman said the organisation was "deeply saddened" by the incident.

The BBC understands that at some point during the attack on the British Military Cemetery a group of older people intervened to stop it, preventing further damage.

The CWCG said it would conduct a full survey of the damage at both cemeteries once it was safe to do so.

"Both cemeteries will be restored to a standard befitting the sacrifice of those commemorated at Benghazi, but this could take some time because we will need to source replacement stones," the CWCG said.

"In the meantime we will ensure that temporary markers are erected over the graves."

No-one was injured in the attack, it said.

It is understood a separate attack was carried out on the Italian War Graves Cemetery, also in the eastern city of Benghazi.

The Foreign Office said officials from its Embassy in Tripoli had visited the cemeteries and raised the issue with the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Benghazi chief of police.

Concerns were also raised with NTC chairman Abdul Jalil and interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim al-Keib, it said.

In response, the NTC said in a statement on its website: "Some people attacked the graves of non-Muslims in Benghazi, including the graves of some of the nationals of friendly countries, including the states of Britain and Italy."

It adds that it "severely denounces such shameful acts and vows to find and prosecute the perpetrators according to Libyan Law".

The Foreign Office said Libyan authorities had instructed police to make regular patrols to halt any further attacks.

In June last year Foreign Secretary William Hague laid a wreath at Commonwealth war graves on a trip to Benghazi.

BBC Southern Africa correspondent Karen Allen said that up until now Commonwealth war graves had been respected in Libya, and it was sad to see attacks in Benghazi.

In November last year our correspondent reported that Tripoli War Cemetery, one of five Commonwealth war cemeteries dotted across Libya, was left untouched during the uprising.

The CWGC held services at its cemeteries in Tripoli, Benghazi and Tobruk to mark the 93rd Armistice Day last year.

There are 1,214 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated at the Benghazi War Cemetery. Of the 1,051 identified graves, 851 are British.

Many were members of the 7th Armoured Division, known as the Desert Rats, who fought for control of Libya and Egypt between 1941 and 1943.

The Benghazi British Military Cemetery has 284 burials, 11 of them unidentified. The graves are of servicemen and women who died in the region in the years following the Second War.

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BBC News, 2012. Fury over attack on British war graves in Benghazi [Online] (Updated 4th Mar 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1415479/Fury-over-attack-on-British-war-graves-in-Benghazi [Accessed 3rd Sep 2014]

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