The arrest of a “sadistic” Somali smuggler in Italy has revealed the shocking abuse suffered by refugees and migrants who are held in squalid camps in the Sahara before being herded onto boats across the Mediterranean.
Prosecutors have compiled a 40-page dossier on the horrific abuses allegedly carried out by Osman Matammud, 22, who is accused of raping women and savagely beating men in a dusty desert camp south of Tripoli.
Matammud managed to make it to Italy by passing himself off as a refugee, but in September he was recognised by fellow Somalis in a migrant centre in Milan.
He was almost lynched, before police stepped in and arrested him. Initially suspected of being a straight-forward trafficker, it soon became apparent from witness testimony that he had instituted a reign of terror at the abandoned hangar in Bani Walid, 100 miles south-east of Tripoli, with prosecutors comparing him to a Nazi concentration camp guard.
“I’m not Somali, I’m not Muslim – I’m your boss,” he allegedly told migrants and refugees when they arrived at the camp, having crossed the Sahara from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan.
Several Somali women told investigators in Italy that they had been repeatedly raped by Matammud, who is from Mogadishu. The violence was in part to exert pressure on their families to pay more money for their passage across the Mediterranean, with the going rate set at $7,000.
But Matammud also allegedly took a sadistic pleasure in meting out the abuse, witnesses said. He would allegedly place plastic bags on the backs of migrants and set them alight so that molten plastic blistered their skin.
One teenage girl told Milan prosecutors: “The first night, he came into the hangar, he grabbed me and he ripped off my clothes in front of everyone. He penetrated me. I fainted but when I came to, there was blood everywhere. I was raped many times by him – every night.” Another girl, aged 17, said: “My family were struggling to pay the extra money, and he said to me, ‘I’ll take care of you tonight’ and from that night I suffered horribly.”
Migrants were given little food and water and kept in unsanitary conditions. “We all slept on the floor. It was impossible to escape, the camp was a hangar surrounded by a high wall,” one man told prosecutors.
The accused, 22 year old Osman Mattamud (Mohamud) faces a litany of charges including murder, rape and torture
Matammud was identified by at least 10 different witnesses, said chief prosecutor Ilda Boccassini, who has spent much of her career fighting the Mafia. “In a career spanning 40 years, I’ve never come across such horrors. And what is going on in Bani Walid is going on in all the transit camps,” she said.
Favasal Caabi Shafici was imprisoned in the camp for two months last year. “I was beaten and tortured every day. He was a sadist, he liked causing pain. We were kicked and hit with iron rods and wooden poles. One time he hit me so many times that I vomited blood,” he said.
It is alleged that migrants were told that they would be murdered if their families back home failed to wire enough money to the traffickers.
“In these camps, life is worth less than zero” said prosecutor Francesco Greco. Marcello Tatangelo, another investigator, said the desert holding centre was “like a concentration camp”.
Matammud, who is in custody, will be questioned again by prosecutors on Friday. He has been charged with four murders, multiple rapes and kidnapping.