Libyan rebel forces leader killed
Published 29/07/2011 | 07:42
The head of the Libyan rebel armed forces was shot and killed just before arriving for questioning by rebel authorities, their political leader has said in a carefully worded statement to reporters that gave few details on who was behind the killing.
Adding to the confusion, the rebels had said hours earlier they had already detained the commander, Abdel-Fattah Younis, on suspicion his family might still have ties to the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, raising questions about whether he might have been assassinated by his own side.
Such a scenario would signal a troubling split within the rebel movement at a time when their forces have failed to make battlefield gains despite nearly four months of Nato airstrikes against Gaddafi's forces.
It could also shake the confidence of the United States, Britain and several dozen other nations that have recognised the rebel council as Libya's legitimate leaders.
Announcing the killing at a press conference where he did not take questions, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the rebels' National Transitional Council, called Cmr Younis "one of the heroes of the 17th of February revolution", a name marking the date of early protests against Gaddafi's regime.
He said two of the commander's aides, both colonels, were also killed in the attack by gunmen and that rebels had arrested the head of the group behind the attack. He did not say what he thought motivated the killers.
Cmr Younis was Gaddafi's interior minister before defecting to the rebels early in the uprising, which began in February.
His abandoning of the Libyan leader raised Western hopes that the growing opposition could succeed in forcing out the country's ruler of more than four decades.
Rebel forces, however, held mixed views of the man, with some praising him for defecting and others criticising his long association with Gaddafi.
Hours before the commander's death was announced, rebel military spokesman Mohammed al-Rijali had said Cmr Younis was taken for interrogation from his operations room near the front line to the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi in eastern Libya. Later, Mr Abdul-Jalil presented a different scenario, saying Cmr Younis had been "summoned" for questioning on "a military matter", but that he had not yet been questioned when he was killed.