Canadian WW II headstones smashed in Libya melee
Veterans minister saddened and appalled at cemetary 'pack' vandalism
The headstone of a Canadian airman killed in the Second World War was among hundreds smashed in Benghazi, Libya, after a mob angered by the accidental burning of Qur'ans by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan vandalized a Commonwealth cemetery.
More than 200 headstones were damaged during the attack, including that of flying officer Martin Northmore, 21, who was killed during action in North Africa, the Toronto Star reported.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canada was "appalled by the callous way that these graves were treated," and plans to work with the Commonwealth Graves Commission to repair the damage.
"There are some challenging times in Libya. We’ll certainly register our strong, strong objection to this, this act by the crowd, by the pack who did it," Baird said during a press conference in Ottawa.
"We’ll work with Veterans Affairs to ensure that they’re fully restored and the honour of their sacrifice and contribution is acknowledged."
Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney expressed his dismay in a statement: "I was appalled and saddened when I heard of the vandalism of the Canadian war graves in Libya. These brave individuals made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of peace, freedom and democracy."
A Veterans Affairs spokesperson said nine Royal Canadian Air Force members are buried in the cemetery, the first having been interred in 1941.
The department said it is compiling an inventory of vandalized headstones, which will be repaired once it is safe to do so.
Libyan officials apologize
The National Transitional Council, Libya's interim leadership, has apologized for the attacks.
"The NTC will confront this matter and, in line with Libyan law, will pursue those people who committed this act. This action does not reflect Libyan public opinion because Islam calls for respect for other religions," the NTC said in a statement, according to Reuters.
A video of the vandalism was posted on Facebook. In it, a voice can be heard to say there were Christian graves in the cemetery. Another says they are "dogs," Reuters reports.