When Vienna resident Jihan Kikhia, 25, was six years old, her father disappeared and was believed to have been kidnapped by Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
He was never heard from again, until last year when his perfectly preserved body was discovered in Libya during the revolution there. Initial reports said the body was discovered after Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, Abdullah Senoussi, was captured and interrogated by revolutionary forces.
Jihan’s father, Mansur Rashid Kikhia, was a human rights activist, lawyer and politician from Libya. He was the former Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1972-1973, the Libyan Ambassador to the United Nations, and a permanent Libyan Representative to the United Nations.
During his tenure in the UN, he served as President of the UN Security Council in September 1976 and in October 1977.
He disappeared on Dec. 10, 1993, in Cairo, Egypt, while attending an Arab Organization for Human Rights meeting, of which he was a founding member.
By that point, Kikhia was a leading opposition figure to Gaddafi.
Kikhia’s opposing stance to Gaddafi’s rule was proclaimed in his resignation from the Libyan government in 1980, when he began publicly protesting the killing and torture of many Libyan individuals by Gaddafi’s administration in Libya and abroad. Since his resignation, he continued his opposition movement in Paris, France.
“My family was told by Libyan officials that Gaddafi had my father killed and then kept his body frozen,” Jihan said. “We were told that was not an uncommon thing for [Gaddafi] to do to political enemies he ordered killed. During the recent revolution, we were told that Gaddafi ordered many frozen bodies destroyed, but my father’s body was discovered by revolutionaries before it could be burned.”
Statements by Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan seem to confirm this account.
“The tyrannical [Gaddafi] regime kidnapped the dissident Mansur Rashid al-Kikhia, killed him, hid his body and did not bury it, showing that the regime was more afraid of him dead than alive,” a Libyan foreign ministry statement said last month after Kikhia’s body was positively identified.
According to many published reports, the body, which was found in a house in a southern district of Tripoli, was initially thought to be that of Lebanese Shiite cleric Imam Musa Sadr. The Imam has been missing since 1978 when he was on an official visit to Libya.
But when the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) performed an autopsy in November 2012, DNA analysis instead showed the body was that of Kikhia.
Jihan Kihia said that her family –– living in Vienna –– were then notified that her father’s body had been discovered and had been positively identified.
“It was completely a twist of fate that we ever found out what happened to my father,” Jihan said.
Mansur Kikhia was given a state funeral in Libya on Dec. 3, which his family attended.
On Saturday, the family will be holding a memorial service in Vienna for Kikhia, which they say the public is invited to attend.
“I was initially very angry when I heard that my husband’s body had been discovered,” said his wife, Baha Kikhia.
“In 1997, CIA and State Department officials told me that my husband had been declared dead in 1994 and that his body had been destroyed,” she said. “DNA evidence now proves that was an untrue statement.”
Baha Kikhia, whose father knew Lawrence of Arabia and wrote a book about their friendship, said that she has had face-to-face conversations with both President Bill Clinton and Gaddafi about her husband’s disappearance.
“Gaddafi looked right into my eyes and said he knew nothing about what happened to my husband,” she said.
“Clinton told me he would do what he could to bring him home.”
Baha said that despite her initial anger, she and her four children are relieved to have closure and know the fate of their father.
“Now that we know, we all feel a little more relaxed,” she said.
The 40-day remembrance ceremony for Mansur Kikhia, a Middle East tradition to honor the dead forty days after they are buried, will take place on Jan. 12 from 1-5 p.m. at the Kikhia household at 2169 Chain Bridge Road in Vienna.
“We invite anyone who wants to pay their respects to my father,” said Jihan Kikhia. “His legacy will live on, and he will never be forgotten.”