Libya’s rebels were threatened by a rift yesterday, as their progress on the battlefield slowed and one of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s sons said his family has forged an alliance with Islamist insurgents.
The unity of the revolutionaries became the latest casualty of the shock assassination of a top general, as a key rebel group demanded senior ministers and military brass be fired.
The February 17 Coalition — whose members kick-started the revolt against Qaddafi — said the ministers of defense and international affairs must be sacked following last week’s murder of General Abdel Fatah Yunis.
Abdulsalam el-Musmari, a judge who heads the coalition, criticized the events leading up to Yunis’ murder and the handling of its aftermath by the rebels’ governing National Transitional Council (NTC).
The facts surrounding the general’s death have been opaque, with senior members of the NTC giving incomplete and contradictory accounts of how he died, who killed him and the motive for the murder.
“We have two main demands,” Musmari said. “The resignations of the defense minister [Jallal al-Digheily] and his deputy, and for all the armed groups to fall under the national army or lay down their weapons.”
In a separate written statement, the February 17 Coalition also demanded the sacking of Ali Alasawi — the NTC’s minister for international affairs — and a probe into why he approved a warrant for Yunis’ arrest.
The group’s blistering criticism marks the most public sign yet of tensions between Libyan rebels and the NTC that has come to be their de facto government.
After five months of fighting against Qaddafi’s regime, the NTC has come under increasing scrutiny, with unease fueled by slow progress on the military front.
That lack of progress was laid bare on Wednesday in the eastern town of Zliten, where Qaddafi forces appeared to have repelled a rebel attack.
A day after punching into the center of Zliten, sparking fierce clashes, rebel sources admitted they had pulled back from the center.
Meanwhile, Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, a high-profile son of the strongman, said his family had forged an alliance with Islamist rebels among the insurgents to drive out the secular opposition to his father’s 40-year rule.
Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, who along with his father had long branded the entire opposition as radical extremists, told the New York Times that the rebels would be crushed, following an alliance he had forged with Islamist insurgents.
“The liberals will escape or be killed ... We will do it together,” he said in the newspaper interview.
“Libya will look like Saudi Arabia, like Iran. So what?” he added, in what the Times described as an hour-long interview that stretched past midnight in a nearly deserted Tripoli hotel.
He claimed to have negotiated the pact with Ali Sallabi, a leading Islamist in the rebel-held east.
Sallabi acknowledged their conversations to the Times, but denied the Islamists had switched sides.
The Qaddafi regime has long accused the revolt of being an al-Qaeda plot and has sought to portray itself as a bulwark against an Islamist takeover of the oil-rich North African country.