Wafia Hassan Gantary and her husband Abdelsalam Abunaama watched the revolution of 2011 unfold from their home, discouraging their seven sons and three daughters from participating. “My husband’s uncle was a prime minister during the monarchy era and the family is known as one that opposes Gaddafi.”
Her eldest child, 31-year-old Mohamad, and his wife were expecting their first child. Her youngest, Abdallah, was not yet ten years old at the time. Ghassan, the second youngest, was a decade older. The two boys and the youngest of their sisters now live in the family home on the outskirts of Tripoli with their mother, as she continues to search for her five eldest sons.
Mohamed, Ali, Abubakr and Ahmad are all graduate engineers. Faisal was a forth year student of geography. All five fell into the hands of one of Gaddafi’s katibas on 22 August 2011. “We heard that Tripoli had been liberated, it was all over the news, so we didn’t expect there to be any Gaddafi fighters left in the streets.” Ahmad left the family home at 7:30 in the morning wanting to go and celebrate in central Tripoli. He didn’t make it far. At a main junction not far from his home, Gaddafi forces stopped him and told him to call his brothers and inform them that he was in a car accident.
Ali and Faisal went to the junction and they too were held against their will. Abubakr was captured as he stopped at the junction on his way home. “Mohamad and I kept calling all their phones and nobody would answer. Eventually, someone answered Ahmad’s phone and said he was a friend of his and that he and another friend had been taken to the hospital after the accident.”
Unaware of the deception, Mohamad, his mother and a neighbour made their way to the hospital. They were stopped at the junction. “They started hitting Mohamad and I asked them why they were doing that. I asked if this is where my son Ahmad had been in a car accident. They told me my son is a rat. That’s when I knew these were Gaddafi’s men. There were around forty of them, all holding Kalashnikovs.”
Now with five brothers captive, the forces told Gantary that she had best leave. “They were still hitting my sons when I left with the neighbour. And to this day, I haven’t seen them or heard from or of them.”
Their father, Abdelsalam Abunaama, visited all the prisons and hospitals and graveyards looking for his sons. “The ‘ministry of martyrs and the missing’ has worked to help us, undertaking DNA tests, and found nothing. Where could they have gone?”
Abdelsalam Abunaama died suddenly in November 2012. “There wasn’t a door he hadn’t knocked on. He never lost hope and kept visiting different people and places.”
The family recounted their story to the media many times over the months that followed her sons’ abduction. “No one had helped us, or offered us a solution. What is the point of my life now? It has no meaning. This house used to be full of people. Now I am here with my three youngest and Mohamad’s wife. She was pregnant when he was taken. She lost the baby.”
Gantary is a devout Muslim and teacher of the Quran. She has a strong faith and belief that her sons are alive. “We heard there are Libyans held in prisons in Darfur and Chad and Niger. We heard Saadi Gaddafi took many Libyans with him when he left Libya. We have met people who were themselves prisoners in Darfur. I know they are alive, in Libya or abroad. But I need the government and organisations to help us look for them. I don’t know how to do it alone.