Sat, Jul 30, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Libyan rebels say military commander assassinated

DIVISIONSWitnesses have said the death of the rebel leader was met with jubilation by Qaddafi supporters, while mourners met the leader’s coffin in Benghazi

Reuters, BENGHAZI and NALUT, LIBYA

Libya’s rebels said their military commander was shot dead in an incident that was shrouded in mystery, pointing either to factional infighting within the movement trying to oust Muammar Qaddafi or to an assassination by Qaddafi loyalists.

The killing of Abdel Fattah Younes, who for years was in Qaddafi’s inner circle before defecting to become the military chief in the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC), set back a movement that was at last beginning to acquire cohesion as international pressure on the Qaddafi regime intensifies.

Mourners brought a coffin carrying the burned and bullet-riddled body of Younes into the main square of Benghazi, the rebels’ eastern stronghold, yesterday, his nephew said

“We got the body yesterday here [in Benghazi], he had been shot with bullets and burned,” Younes’ nephew, Abdul Hakim, said as he followed the coffin through the square. “He had called us at 10 o’clock [on Thursday morning] to say he was on his way here.”

After a day of rumors on Thursday, rebel political leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said Younes and two bodyguards had been killed before he could make a requested appearance before a rebel judicial committee investigating military issues.

Jalil gave no further details. The subject of the hearing to which Younes was summoned was not immediately known.

“It seems this was an assassination operation organized by Qaddafi’s men. Qaddafi’s security apparatus has fulfilled their aim and objective of getting rid of Younes,” London-based Libyan journalist and activist Shamis Ashour said. “By doing that they think they will create divisions among the rebels. There certainly was treason, a sleeping cell among the rebels. Younes was on the front line and was lured to come back to Benghazi and was killed before he reached Benghazi. This is a big setback and a big loss to the rebels.”

Alan Fraser, Middle East and North Africa analyst with London-based risk consultancy AKE, suggested Younes’s killing had more to do with divisions within the insurgency kindled by difficulties in advancing on the battlefield.

“If the rumors that General Younes was feeding information to Qaddafi were there then it would make sense that some rogue elements might attempt to assassinate him,” Fraser said.

Witnesses said Younes’s demise was greeted with jubilation by Qaddafi’s supporters in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Younes’s relatives vowed allegiance to the rebel political leader.

“A message to Mustafa Abdel Jalil: We will walk with you all the way,” another nephew, Mohammed Younes, told a crowd of mourners in the main square of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya. “Libya first, until God gives us victory or chooses us as martyrs.”

Younes was not trusted by all of the rebel leadership given his previous role in cracking down on anti-Qaddafi dissidents.

However, his death is likely to be a severe blow to a movement that has won the backing of about 30 nations, but is laboring to make progress on the battlefield.

“A lot of the members of the TNC were Qaddafi loyalists for a very long time. They were in his inner circle and joined the TNC at a later stage,” said Geoff Porter from North Africa Risk Consulting.

The killing coincided with the start of a rebel offensive in the west and further international recognition for their cause, which they hope to translate into access to billions of US dollars in frozen funds.

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