The gruesome crimes of a family who built mass graves for their murder victims - often 'fed to lions' - are being uncovered.

The Kani brothers massacred entire families and paraded their power including police allies, heavy weaponry and lions, in an eight-year reign of terror over a small agricultural Libyan town.

Investigators dressed in white chemical protection suits have spent the last seven months in Tarhuna unearthing burial sites where they have recovered more than 120 dead bodies.

Much more land is yet to be excavated as 338 residents of Tarhuna had been reported missing since the Kani family seized control in 2015, Human Rights Watch reports.

Wadah al-Keesh in front of just some of the graves he has helped to excavate

Wadah al-Keesh who is working on the investigation, told the BBC : "Every time I excavate a new dead body, I try to be as gentle as I can. We believe that if you break a bone, his soul will feel it."

Some bodies appear to belong to young fighters killed in conflict last summer, but corpses of civilian women and children as young as five have also been found with signs of torture.

In 2017, the brothers staged a military parade through the town designed to show off the extent of their strength, not least with lions on leads resting on the roof of a pick-up truck.

It is rumoured the fearsome big cats were fed the flesh of some of the family's victims, the BBC reports.

Mohammed al-Kani, (left), and the two main killers of the family, Mohsen and Abdul-Rahim

Despite the Kanis losing their grip on Tarhouna in June 2020 after three died and the rest fled, many residents are still to scared to speak out about their crimes.

Hamza Dila'ab, a trained lawyer and community activist, said: "Those seven brothers were rough people, without any manners. Their social status was zero.

"They were like a pack of hyenas when they were together. They swore and quarrelled. They could even hit one another with sticks.

"Their policy was to terrorise people for no other reason than to create fear. They killed for that reason alone. Anyone in Tarhuna who stood against them would die."

Hanan Abu-Kleish was at home on April 17 2017 when some of the Kanis' troops burst in, she said: "One of them put a gun to my head.

"He asked me who was in the house, and I said, 'No-one.' But he dragged me to my father's room. They said to him: 'We're going to kill you first.' And they really did. I did everything I could to stop it. But they just pumped bullets into his chest."