By David Kirkpatrick
The leadership of the Libyan rebels acknowledged late Friday that a group of their own soldiers had killed their top military commander, contradicting statements made a day earlier as the rebels scrambled to avoid tribal revenge attacks that could divide their ranks.
The death of the commander, Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes, has shaken both the rebel leaders trying to oust Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and their Western supporters by revealing divisions and intrigue within the rebel forces. The shifting and elliptical accounts of General Younes’s death have raised new questions about the rebel leaders’ credibility. Even before a member of the rebels’ governing council, Ali Tarhouni, told a group of reporters Friday night that General Younes had died at the hands of rebel soldiers, many in the general’s powerful tribe, the Obeidi, were accusing the council of playing some role in his death. Gen Younes’s death also removed the rebels’ top military commander just as they were struggling to restart their stalled drive toward Tripoli before the expiration in late September of the United Nations resolution authorizing NATO’s actions against Colonel Qaddafi.
Younes, a former chief of security under Colonel Qaddafi [as well as former Interior Minister], was responsible for the detention and torture of untold numbers of Libyan dissidents, and had long been a controversial figure among the rebels because of his close ties to their nemesis in Tripoli. Shortly before his death the rebels issued a subpoena for the general to return from the front lines for questioning by a panel of judges, reportedly about charges of treason.
But instead of relying on a legal process, a group of rebel soldiers sent to retrieve him killed him along with two guards, and then dumped their bodies outside the city, Mr. Tarhouni told reporters Friday night. He said the officer commanding the soldiers had admitted that they executed General Younes, but the troops remained at large. “Everything is under control,” Mr. Tarhouni said, according to The Associated Press. “This is just a rough stage we are going through.”
His comments contradicted a palpably fearful statement delivered the night before by the rebels’ top leader, Mustapha Abdul Jalil, who suggested to reporters that General Younes had been killed by an “armed gang.” Mr. Jalil said General Younes was killed after leaving his questioning session, not before. And he said that his body had not been found, though it appeared in a coffin Friday morning before midday prayers.