Libyan opposition in disarray after killing

Sat, Jul 30, 2011, 01:00

THE MYSTERIOUS death of the Libyan rebel army commander, Abdul Fatah Younes, has thrown the opposition into disarray, and is posing awkward questions for foreign backers who have put their weight behind the rebel cause.

The assassination of Younes was reported in a televised press conference late on Thursday night by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, president of the National Transitional Council, but his failure to answer key questions has left many wondering who was responsible.

Younes has been a controversial choice as leader of the rebel army, having switched sides from his previous post as interior minister and close confidant to Muammar Gadafy.

On Thursday rumours swirled through the rebel cities of Benghazi and Misurata that he had been arrested on charges of trying to negotiate a secret peace deal with agents of Col Gadafy.

By late afternoon, soldiers loyal to the general had arrived on the streets of Benghazi, brandishing machine guns and vowing to free their general from jail, once they could locate where he was being kept.

Mr Jalil’s announcement that Younes (67) had been murdered, along with two aides, drew gasps from journalists in the room.

Mr Jalil declared his regret at the killing, which he said had happened after Younes was summoned to Benghazi that morning from the front line for questioning on undisclosed “military matters.”

However, Mr Jalil’s refusal to say where the killing had taken place, or when, or to confirm who was responsible, fuelled suspicions among Younes’s supporters that it was an inside job.

Shortly after the conference broke up, some supporters fired at the hotel from the road outside, shouting that the rebels themselves were responsible for the death.

Yesterday, fresh rumours circulated; a report on Radio Misurata claimed that he had been killed, not on the road, but in a hotel room where he had been installed by police who had arrested him at the front.

The report said armed men had burst into the room and dragged the general and his aides away.

The authorities confirmed that their bodies, riddled with bullets and so badly burned they could not immediately be identified, were later found in a Benghazi street.

Younes’s time as commander has not been marked with success. He failed to capture the key oil town of Brega in the rebel’s biggest offensive of the war launched two weeks ago with Nato air support.

Younes’s position seems to be more the result of his membership of the Odeidi tribe, the largest tribe in eastern Libya. Some tribal members are furious and suspect that factions in the rebel administration are responsible for the death.

The killing came only a day after Britain had followed the lead of the United States and more than 30 other countries in granting the National Transitional Council recognition as the legitimate government of Libya.

Those backers will be hoping that Mr Jalil can demonstration his stated commitment to the rule of law with a full and open inquiry.