'Gadafy is stubborn. He will not surrender easily'


Gen Abdul Fatteh Younis recently defected from the Gadafy’s military. Now he commands the rebel forces

JUST OVER a month ago, Gen Abdul Fatteh Younis was Muammar Gadafy’s right-hand man, bound by almost five decades of friendship and service dating back to the 1969 military coup that propelled Gadafy to power.

Today Younis sits in a safe house in rebel-held Benghazi with a price on his head following his sensational defection in the early days of Libya’s uprising. He now co-ordinates the rebels’ military push to overthrow Gadafy.

When Younis sided with the opposition, the Gadafy regime claimed he had been kidnapped. His bodyguard later died in a shooting incident.

Shortly after his defection, Younis was predicting that the man he knows better than most would “either commit suicide or resist until he falls”.

Losing such a close ally was a major blow to Gadafy, one that clearly still rankles.

Last weekend, in a bid to sow suspicion among those rebels still wary of Younis’ true loyalties, the regime ran reports in state media that Younis was being reinstalled as interior minister, the post he held before throwing his lot in with the uprising.

“Gadafy wants to cut my relations with the revolution by any means, no matter how dirty,” says Younis, sitting beneath a photograph of Omar al-Mukhtar, the Libyan colonial-era resistance hero whose image and slogan has been adopted by the rebels. He believes Gadafy’s departure is unlikely to be swift or quiet.

“This man is stubborn. He will not leave the country or surrender easily . . . The situation is very complicated at the moment and I hope it will not continue for long but all the evidence suggests that Gadafy is trying to make it last even longer.” Younis talks of rumours that Gadafy has left the capital Tripoli and is now in southern Libya, and adds that there is “some evidence” that he has withdrawn money, gold and foreign currency from the central bank. He speculates that Gadafy might use this to establish himself in Chad or Niger, from where he would launch military operations in an attempt to return.

“I’m calling on the international community to realise that the sooner he is gone, the better it is for everybody, for the peace of the world,” he says.

Some opposition figures hope that the US and European coalition strikes against Gadafy’s air defences will trigger more senior defections and weaken Gadafy’s grip on power. Younis seems less certain.

“You cannot bet on something you do not have in your own hands,” he says.

“Gadafy’s strategy now is that he is effectively holding families of some of his cadre hostage in his compound so he can control their movements and make sure they will not defect or leave him. He is keeping them as human shields. He is a shrewd man in this way.”

Younis claims the rebel fighters are succeeding in pushing regime forces west, though eyewitness accounts from the front yesterday challenge this assertion.

“The no-fly zone is very helpful to allow the opposition forces come together and advance to the west . . to free those areas,” he says. He acknowledges that militarily his forces – a mix of fellow defectors and masses of untrained volunteers – are little match for the regime but argues that continuing air strikes on army installations will tip the balance in the rebels’ favour because, he insists, they are supported by the majority of Libyans.

“We are asking the international community to finish his security services because once they are gone then the rest will be done by the Libyan people.”

Younis talks of having between 15-20,000 fighters. “With that large number of revolutionaries, even with the light weapons they have, we can manage to achieve our goals, especially after air strikes help prepare the ground.”

Asked whether the rebels have been receiving foreign military assistance in the form of weapons, Younis replies: “So far we did not receive anything. A lot of countries promised to help us but they haven’t.”

Younis claims Gadafy’s recent behaviour has taken him by surprise.

“I am shocked because I realise now that I followed him for many years without knowing him very well inside.

“He was good with me, he listened to my advice, and he respected me . . . but what has happened now is completely different. It seems he was a good actor.”