Motive unclear for execution-style murders

TRAGEDY: Wellington woman Lynn Howie was shot dead in Libya.
TRAGEDY: Wellington woman Lynn Howie was shot dead in Libya.

Speculation is rife over a motive for the shooting of Wellington mother-of-two Lynn Howie on a beach in Libya.

The health worker was shot alongside Briton Mark De Salis in a killing widely described as "execution style", as the pair appeared to be picnicking together on a beach near the city of Sabratha.

While Libyan media was reporting four arrests over the deaths, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday said it had been told by Libyan authorities none had been made.

Howie, 46, leaves behind two teenage sons.

She had met De Salis, a British oil company executive, in New Zealand last year through mutual friends, and had gone to visit him in Libya when the pair were killed.

She was planning on continuing to London before moving back to live in the Hutt where the pair had bought a house together.

In a Facebook post, Howie wrote of falling asleep to the sound of gunshots after arriving in Tripoli.

"Landed safely in Tripoli, survived the drive from the airport and having a blast. Such an amazing experience and such a contrast from New Zealand," she wrote.

"Experienced the first of the machine gun fire last night, tonight should be interesting . . . New Years Libyan style."

Colleagues at Wellington's Regional Public Health held a vigil for Howie yesterday. Her boss, Regional Public Health service manager Peter Gush, said Howie's death had been distressing for her colleagues.

She had worked as a health protection officer for the service, which is based at Hutt Valley District Health, for about three years.

"We are very saddened by her death. She was a valued employee, really good at her job and well-liked in the workplace."

She was also studying towards a bachelor of nursing at Whitireia Community Polytechnic, and was a volunteer paramedic for the Wellington Free Ambulance.

The remote beach on which Howie and De Salis were killed was near Sabratha, about 65 kilometres west of Libyan capital Tripoli.

Photographs circulated in Libyan media show the pair lying face down on the beach near a picnic blanket.

The Tripoli Post said security officials dismissed the motive of robbery, saying the victims' belongings were undisturbed and their car parked nearby was not targeted.

They had been reported missing, and police were searching for them when the bodies were discovered. It was not clear how long they had lain on the beach.

Libyan local community media outlet Media Center Sabratha said the beach where the bodies were found was not often visited by the general public. A four-wheel drive would be needed to get to it.

Security in Libya has deteriorated in recent months, as the government struggles to rein in militias who helped to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi in the 2011 revolution.

The oil sector is Libya's most lucrative, and few foreign companies operate there. Those that do employ local staff, with expatriates staying in gated compounds - especially at night.

Libya's energy sector has been hit by a series of strikes and clashes involving militias. But that had not yet led to the targeting of foreign workers, The Independent said.

A month ago an American teacher was shot dead while out running in Benghazi. The UK Foreign Office said at the time that further attacks against Westerners were likely and could be opportunistic.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman, Adham Crichton, said an investigation into the deaths was under way, and the Government would be be following this closely on behalf of the family.

"We welcome the efforts that are being made to bring those responsible for Ms Howie's death to justice.

"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.

"We continue to provide consular support to the family of Lynn Howie."

Her family had requested privacy.

The Dominion Post