Libyans prepared yesterday to bury 11 imams killed in what Muammar Qaddafi’s regime said was a NATO air strike, while the alliance said it had targeted a military site and regretted any loss of civilian lives.
At least 50 other people were wounded in the attack on the eastern city of Brega early on Friday, with five of them in a critical condition, government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said on Friday.
NATO said a “command and control bunker was struck in Brega early this [Friday] morning, as the structure was being used by the Qaddafi regime to coordinate strikes against the Libyan civilian population.”
“We are aware of allegations of civilian casualties in connection to this strike and although we cannot independently confirm the validity of the claim we regret any loss of life by innocent civilians when they occur.”
An imam at a news conference with Ibrahim, identified as Nureddin al-Mijrah, called for revenge.
He urged Muslims across the world “to take revenge for our brothers who died today. For every man we should take down one thousand men ... from France, Italy, Denmark, Britain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.”
Ibrahim said Mijrah’s views were his own.
Meanwhile Qaddafi, whom Italy claimed was wounded and on the run, said he was beyond the reach of NATO bombs.
“I want to say to the Crusader cowards that I live in a place where I cannot be reached or killed; I live in the hearts of millions,” he said in an audio message that aired on Friday on state television.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini had said Qaddafi was “probably outside of Tripoli and probably also injured,” and that the reports came from the Roman Catholic bishop of Tripoli.
However, bishop Giovanni Martinelli, denied making such comments.
“What the foreign minister said is not right because I never said that the Libyan leader was wounded,” he told Radio France Internationale. “I only said that he was under psychological shock from the death of his son. I did not say he was wounded or that he left Tripoli.”
An April 30 air strike missed Qaddafi but killed his son, Seif al-Arab, and three of his grandchildren.
Ibrahim told reporters Qaddafi “is in very good health, high morale, high spirits,” and “he is in Tripoli.”
Qaddafi’s audio message appeared to have been made after a NATO strike on his Bab al-Aziziya compound early on Thursday, because he referred to “the martyrdom of three civilians, journalists.”
On the battlefield, rebels reportedly made new progress in their advance toward the eastern and western boundaries of the western port city of Misrata.
A correspondent said they had moved 20km to the east to reach the gates of Tavarga and in the west they reached the gates of the city of Zliten — their next main military target on the road to Tripoli.
On the diplomatic front, the rebel leadership made tepid gains.
In Washington, the Libyan rebel movement’s No. 2 Mahmud Jibril, was received at the White House by US President Barack Obama’s national security adviser Tom Donilon.
The White House said the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NCT) was a “legitimate and credible” voice of the Libyan people, but stopped short of offering it full diplomatic recognition.
The White House said it was working with Congress on changes to the law to allow a portion of about US$30 billion in Qaddafi regime assets blocked in the US to be funneled towards the opposition.