Libyan romance fatal for NZ mum

TONY WALL, SIMON DAY AND TESSA JOHNSTONE
Last updated 14:25 05/01/2014
Lynn Howie
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TRAGEDY: Wellington woman Lynn Howie was shot dead in Libya.
Mark De Salis
SLAIN: Mark De Salis was found dead with Howie on the beach.

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As Libyan police investigate the shooting of a New Zealand woman and her British partner there is speculation several arrests have been made in the case.

Wellington woman Lynn Howie was shot in the head execution-style alongside Mark De Salis as the two had a picnic on a beach near the city of Sabratha, 65km west of Libya's capital, Tripoli.

Mother-of-two Howie, 47, had gone there to visit her new partner and, according to a friend, was to have travelled on to London.

A report on an Arabic news website this afternoon said four people had been arrested for the killings, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it knew nothing of any arrests.

A spokesman said nothing would be confirmed until tomorrow morning because of the time difference between New Zealand and Libya, but MFAT was following the investigation closely. The report should be treated with caution, he said.

The bodies of Howie and De Salis were found on Thursday and the motive for the killings remained unclear.

MFAT said this morning it was deeply saddened by the deaths.

"We are in close contact with her next of kin and providing consular assistance to them. We are grateful for the support from British Embassy staff in Libya who have provided assistance and we will continue to work closely with them," a spokesman said.

MFAT would follow the investigation into the deaths by the Libyan authorities but asked that the family's privacy be respected, he said.

A friend of Howie's, who asked not to be named, said Howie had visited Libya to see her boyfriend.

"We always said to her, 'what a place to be in love with somebody'. You always think you are going to come home and everything is going to be all right. I hear about all the romance and the wonderful things."

She said Howie was an "absolutely amazing" woman - stylish, graceful, down to earth and lovely.

A former colleague of Howie, who also asked not to be named, said her friend had planned to continue on to London.

"She wasn't even supposed to be there for long. She was a beautiful person, you couldn't ask for a bubblier friend . . . She was hard-working and just lots of fun. She lived life to the fullest, so it didn't surprise me that she was going [to Libya]."

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Howie was previously known as Lynn Gray and is understood to have been recently divorced from an army officer. The Star-Times was yesterday turned away from her former home in Silverstream, north of Wellington.

De Salis had been working in Tripoli, Libya for six years according to a family statement released through the UK Foreign Office, which described him as a "decent and incredibly loyal man".

"The family of Mark De Salis are shocked and devastated to hear about Mark's death in Libya. Mark enjoyed his work in Tripoli and liked the Libyan people," it said.

"Mark enjoyed travelling and had travelled extensively. He was a decent and incredibly loyal man and he was loved by many. He will be sadly missed by his family and friends."

De Salis had been working as a power manager for First Engineering, bringing generators to Tripoli to provide electricity.

Howie worked in the health sector, including roles with Ministry of Health and Regional Public Health. She had been a volunteer event medic with both St John Ambulance and Wellington Free Ambulance.

A Wellington Free Ambulance spokesman said the organisation's sympathies were with the family.

MOTIVE UNKNOWN

Libyan news and social media sites published a photograph purporting to be of the victims. The night-time image showed a man and woman lying face-down, a picnic blanket and rucksack between them, blood from head wounds staining the surrounding sand.

The woman was wearing jeans, trainers and a black puffer jacket. The website said the beach was accessible only by four-wheel drive and was known as a dangerous area.

A Libyan security official said: "It doesn't look like robbery because there was no break in at their Toyota car parked nearby. It was untouched until we came."

MFAT was trying to get the images removed from the internet - another showed two bodies wrapped in white sheets in the back of a van - as they would be distressing to the dead woman's family.

"We are in contact with the people who have published those photos to try and get them removed," a spokesman said.

"Obviously it would be upsetting for the family, we've been asking media not to publish them. I don't know if the family has seen them."

The spokesman said British consular staff from Tripoli had travelled to the area where the murders were committed, and the New Zealand embassy in Cairo was handling the New Zealand response.

The bodies have been taken to Tripoli for a forensic examination.

There are currently five New Zealanders registered with the ministry as being in Libya despite official advice against all travel there due to the "significant threat" from terrorism and kidnapping.

The British Foreign Office said it had raised the murders with Libyan authorities.

"We call upon the Libyan Government to carry out a thorough investigation in to this tragic incident and to continue to do all it can to bring to justice the perpetrators of this appalling crime, as it strives to build strong rule of law in Libya," it said in a statement.

A Libyan newspaper reported that shells from a 9mm gun were found at the crime scene.

Britain's Telegraph newspaper reported that security sources were speculating that the executions might have been revenge for a perceived "spying mission" by Americans.

The paper said four armed American security officers from the US embassy were detained for several hours last week close to the Mellitah oil complex.

They were eventually released after claiming to have been checking an evacuation route towards the Tunisian border, but security sources suggested the group may have been investigating the activities of Jihadist groups in the area linked to al Qaeda, The Telegraph said.

A DANGEROUS PLACE

The security situation in Libya remains volatile more than two years after dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown.

Since Gaddafi's was killed armed militias of former rebels continue to act as "guardians of the revolution" and there have been reports of sporadic clashes between rival militias.

A month ago an American teacher was shot dead while jogging and last week it was reported that two American basketball coaches were detained in Benghazi.

In 2012, US ambassador Chris Stevens was murdered when the US consulate in Benghazi was attacked by terrorists. 

- Sunday Star Times

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