Friday, July 29, 2011

Mystery over the Killing of Libyan rebel leader

Benghazi The head of the Libyan rebels' armed forces and two of his aides were killed by gunmen on Thursday, creating a power vacuum at the top of the opposition military hierarchy and raising questions about who was responsible.

Abdel Fattah Younes was killed after being summoned to the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi to appear before a judicial inquiry, opposition leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil announced at a press conference late on Thursday night.

He told reporters that rebel security had arrested the head of the group behind the killing but had not found the dead men's bodies.

By Friday, however, it appeared that the bodies had been found and returned to their relatives. Thousands of people gathered in Benghazi's central courthouse square - renamed Tahrir Square by the opposition - to observe Friday prayers and mourn Younes.

They carried coffins apparently carrying the bodies through the square.

Abdul Hakim, a nephew of Younes, told the Reuters news agency that Younes's body had been returned to his family on Thursday, burned and bearing bullet wounds. He said Younes had called to say he was coming to Benghazi around 10am Thursday morning.

Questions over killing

Jalil's remarks

Read a transcript of the Libyan rebel leader's statement on the death of Abdel Fatah Younes.

Rebel security reportedly arrived at Younes's operations room near the rebels' eastern front and arrested him and his aides early on Thursday.

Security officials said at the time that Younes was to be questioned about possible ties to Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

Younes was Gaddafi's interior minister before defecting to the rebels early in the uprising, which began in February.

Jalil said that Younes had been summoned for questioning regarding "a military matter". He said Younes and his two aides, a colonel and a major, were shot before they arrived for questioning.

Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley, reporting from Benghazi, said that the body had not been handed over yet.

"One of the assailants was captured. [The groups] were described as pro-Gaddafi units."

"Now there is a hunt going in Benghazi to find those people," he said.

Jalil called Younes "one of the heroes of the 17th of February revolution", a name marking the date of early protests against Gaddafi's regime.

He did not say Gaddafi's forces were directly responsible for Younes's killing but said Gaddafi was seeking to break the unity of rebel forces. He also issued a stiff warning about unaffiliated "armed groups" in rebel-held cities, saying they needed to join the fight against Gaddafi or risk being arrested by security forces.

'A man who was a target'

After Jalil finished his remarks, without taking questions, there were reports of fighting and gunfire in and around the Tibesti Hotel, where the press conference was held.

A witness told the AFP news agency that supporters of Younes grouped outside the Tibesti, fired their weapons in the air and attempted to enter the hotel, where they were confronted by NTC security.

Some of the men shouted, "You killed him", in reference to the NTC.

"[Younes] is a man who was a target," Birtley said. "It is a question of who was he targeted by: Pro-Gaddafi loyalists or people on the opposition side who didn't actually like his politics because there were questions about where his loyalties truly lay."

"This was a man who was the interior minister for Gaddafi. He was a personal friend for 40 years and that friendship shone through."

"When I [interviewed] him, he said he changed sides because the Gaddafi he knew was not the Gaddafi that was leading the country any longer."

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