MISRATA, Libya -- Hundreds of corpses of Islamic State fighters have lain stored for the past year in a row of refrigerated containers in the Libyan city of Misrata awaiting a final decision on their fate.
“The temperature must be kept at between -18 and -20 (Celsius, 0.4 to -4 Fahrenheit) for the bodies to remain conserved,” said Ali Tuwaileb at a high security anti-organised crime complex in the city.
Around 700 bodies have been housed at the improvised morgue ever since IS jihadists were expelled in December 2016 from the coastal city of Sirte that had been their bastion in Libya.
Two old stretchers under an improvised tent, set up in front of the containers, serve as a laboratory for a forensic doctor.
“As you can see, we don’t have the means. This is where we took samples for DNA tests and where we photographed the corpses,” said Tuwaileb, who is in charge of the facility.
Due to the lack of resources, several hundred other IS corpses have been abandoned under the rubble in Sirte or in makeshift cemeteries dug by the jihadists.
In the wake of the battle during which US-led coalition air strikes backed Libyan security forces, decaying bodies on the streets of Sirte gave rise to fears of epidemic.
In a comment after an August visit that drew strong criticism, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the country could one day become a magnet for tourists and investors once it can “clear the dead bodies away”.
According to Tuwaileb’s estimate, between 1,500 and 2,000 jihadists were buried in the Mediterranean city.
“We don’t have enough fridges, or we would have exhumed all the bodies,” said the Libyan official, who pointed out that the containers were loaned by private companies.
Out of the seven refrigerated containers in Misrata, three have broken down. “We’ve had to redistribute the bodies among the fridges that still work,” said Tuwaileb.