Senior rebel commander killed by his own troops
Setback a 'slap in the face' for UK after recognising new Libyan state
Efforts by insurgents to topple Muammar Gaddafi were in disarray last night after a senior Libyan opposition figure admitted that rebel soldiers were responsible for the murder of their most senior army commander.
The transitional government's oil minister said that General Abdel Fatah Younis had been shot dead by Islamist-linked militia within the anti-Gaddafi forces, provoking fears of future unrest and instability among those fighting the old regime.
The revelation will raise doubts over the wisdom of the British government's decision last week to officially recognise the rebel transitional government, declaring that it had proved its democratic credentials.
Just a day later, the bullet-riddled and burnt bodies of Gen Younis and two of his aides were found dumped on the outskirts of Benghazi, the rebel capital.
In Tripoli, Gaddafi's spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, took the opportunity to mock British support for the rebels, declaring: "It is a nice slap [in] the face [for] the British that the [rebel] council that they recognised could not protect its own commander of the army."
Mr Ibrahim alleged that al-Qaida elements were behind the killing, stating that "by this act, al-Qaida wanted to mark out its presence and its influence in this region".
Gen Younis was killed in mysterious circumstances on Thursday last. Initially, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, president of the National Transitional Council, the rebels' government, claimed the murder had been carried out by Gaddafi-linked forces. That was starkly contradicted yesterday by oil minister Ali Tarhouni who confirmed Gen Younis had been killed by members of the Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade, a group linked to the rebels.
The authorities have yet to say where Younis was killed, or when, or how it was that his body vanished for 24 hours. Neither is it clear why he was being brought back to Benghazi.
Reports in rebel-controlled Libya also contradict the official version, with radio stations reporting that Gen Younis was killed not on the road but after being kidnapped in a hotel room in the rebel capital and that the general had been under arrest that morning, accused of holding secret talks with Gaddafi regime officials.
Adding to the sense of crisis engulfing Libya's rebels yesterday, Gaddafi launched his heaviest assault yet on the besieged city of Misrata using tanks, infantry and artillery against rebel front lines.
The commander of the frontline Hatin Brigade, Sedek Sheltad, said that seven fighters were killed and more than 50 wounded. "There is a big war now between the Gaddafi soldiers and the revolutionaries," he said.
Recent weeks have seen Nato employ what is tactical bombing in all but name, but despite dozens of airstrikes around the oil town of Brega, and successive rebel assaults, government forces remain in control.