Killings put credibility of Libyan rebel forces into doubt
Published 02/08/2011 | 05:00
The credibility of the rebel forces in Libya has been thrown into doubt after the shock assassination of a top military commander led to claims that the movement is enmeshed in a bloody internal feud.
Increasing evidence has begun to emerge that the savage killings of General Abdel Fatah Younes and two other senior officers -- who were shot and whose bodies were burnt -- may have been carried out by their own side.
The news of the deaths led to outbreaks of violence in the opposition capital, Benghazi, with troops loyal to the general and members of the large and powerful tribe to which he belonged, the Obeidis, vowing retribution.
The killings came at a difficult time for the UK government, which just a day earlier had formally recognised the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) as the representatives of the Libyan state and ordered diplomats of the Tripoli regime to leave the UK.
Gen Younes is believed to have been under arrest on the orders of the chairman of the TNC, Mustafa Abdul Jalil -- a former justice minister under Muammar Gaddafi -- at the time of his death on Thursday evening.
Analysts said it was likely that whoever carried out the assassination was on the rebel side. Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, said that "given the infighting among the rebels, probably some elements that are opposed to him did it". He added that whoever was responsible, it was "a major blow to the credibility of the rebels . . . Paris or London or Washington are probably extremely anxious about this turn of events".
Gen Younes, who had himself served as interior minister in the regime, had been accused of holding secret talks with Tripoli officials and leaking military secrets.
The news of his arrest led to men from the Obeidi tribe gathering outside the Tibesti Hotel on Thursday evening, where the rebels were due to hold a press conference, threatening to take action to free the commander unless he was released.
Two hours later, in a convoluted statement, Mr Jalil held that Gen Younes had merely been "summoned" for questioning and been released on his own recognisance before being killed in an attack by an "armed gang".
Soon after Mr Jalil had left an armed group from the Obeidi tribe opened fire at the hotel with semi-automatic rifles.
At the funeral of Gen Younes, his relatives pledged support for the revolution. But units loyal to the commander were said to have left the front line to travel to Benghazi to find out who was responsible for the killings.
Meanwhile, Mr Jalil's version of events was contradicted by the TNC's military spokesman, Mohammed al-Rijali, who stated that Gen Younes had been detained at the oil port of Brega and brought to Benghazi for interrogation prior to his death. (©Independent News Service)