IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Families sue Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar in U.S. court for death of relatives

The lawsuit argues that as head of the Libyan National Army, Haftar, a U.S. citizen, is personally liable for actions that include torture and war crimes.
Image: Libyan Strongman Khalifa Haftar salutes during a military parade in the eastern city of Benghazi
Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar at a military parade in the eastern city of Benghazi.Abdullah Doma / AFP - Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Two Libyan citizens filed suit in a Virginia federal court Thursday against Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, alleging he is responsible for the death of numerous family members, including a three year-old girl.

Hafter is the commander of the Libyan National Army, the group that rules much of eastern Libya. Since 2014, Haftar's LNA has been battling with the Government of National Accord (GNA), the group recognized as the legitimate governing body in Libya by both the U.S. and the United Nations. The fighting has frequently spilled over into civilian areas.

On Jan. 5, 2017, plaintiff Salimah Jibreel says she watched as three of her children, three year-old Aziza, eight-year-old Maryam, and 11-year-old Mohammad, were killed when a shell hit their house. Her daughter Mayada, 10, and her husband were both injured.

Three months after the attack, Jibreel says her husband, Alaa, was detained by the LNA and has been held without communication ever since.

The second plaintiff, Ali Abdalla Hamza, says he watched from afar as his family in Ganfouda, Libya, suffered through months of starvation, no water or medicine, and repeated attacks from LNA forces. He says they ate grass and tree bark, and moved between abandoned buildings to avoid the shelling and bombing.

In February 2017, Hamza says he made a desperate trip to Turkey to attempt to get water and food to the people trapped in Ganfouda. The aid never arrived and within weeks, his mother, two brothers, and two sisters had all been killed during LNA attacks.

The attorney for the two plaintiffs, Mark Zaid, appealed directly to Attorney General William Barr Wednesday, requesting the U.S. government initiate criminal proceedings against Haftar for "his numerous violations of international and U.S. domestic law."

The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The civil complaint that the plaintiffs filed Thursday argues that as the leader of the LNA, Haftar is personally liable for its actions, including extrajudicial killing, torture, crimes against humanity, war crimes, cruel, unhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and arbitrary detention.

Khalifa Haftar is a dual Libyan and U.S. citizen and resident of Virginia, where he maintains a condo in Falls Church, an 85-acre estate in Keysville, and a single-family home in Vienna. The complaint says he has invested more than $8 million in property in Virginia since 2014.

Haftar "came to our shores and accepted the privilege and obligations, moral and legal, that come with being a U.S. citizen. The United States has clear jurisdiction over him for his criminal misdeeds," Zaid wrote to Barr. "Whether we have the courage to pursue him is a matter still to be decided."

The civil complaint argues that the plaintiffs need the U.S. to intervene because there is no functioning judicial system in Libya.

Haftar’s attorney Duncan Levin declined to comment on the suit.

CORRECTION (September 4, 2020, 10:25 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated which of Hamza's family members he said were killed in 2017. It was his mother, not his father, along with two brothers and two sisters.