Abdul Fatah Younis ambush killing blamed on pro-Gaddafi forces

The Guardian reports:

The Libyan rebels’ chief of army staff, Abdel Fatah Younis, has been killed in an assassination by pro-Gaddafi agents, according to the rebel authorities.

The president of the ruling National Transitional Council, Abdul Mustafa Jalil, made the dramatic announcement of the death of Younis at a chaotic late-night press conference at a hotel in Benghazi.

He told reporters that Younis had been called back from the frontline near Brega to Benghazi for questioning on the progress of the campaign, and suggested he had been killed by “pro-Gaddafi” forces on the route early in the morning.

But questions remain over the lack of detail over how Younis died or who killed him. The general usually travels inside an armoured car in a multi-vehicle convoy with 30 armed guards, posing problems for any potential assassination team.

Jalil said two senior rebel officers were killed alongside Younis, and demanded that what he called pro-Gaddafi elements he said were operating in Benghazi surrender or join the rebel forces.

The shock announcement came after a day of heated speculation that Younis had been arrested on the orders of Jalil. Younis was Gaddafi’s former interior minister until he dramatically changed sides to join the revolution in February.

The rumours were still swirling late on Thursday night, with armed men declaring their support for Younis appearing on the streets of Benghazi, claiming they would use force to free him from NTC custody.

Soldiers loyal to Jalil from the 17 Brigade, Benghazi’s elite unit, had surrounded Younis’s house in the late afternoon.

Then in the evening, Jalil said at the press conference that “with regret” he had to announce the death of general Younis. Jalil called him “one of the heroes of the 17th of February revolution”.

Minutes later, gunfire broke out in the street outside the Benghazi hotel where the announcement was made, with machine gun bullets smashing windows.

The press conference, which ended abruptly with the NTC president refusing to take questions, failed to explain how the general could have been ambushed in a highly guarded convoy.

Younis has been a controversial figure as head of the rebel forces because – until the uprising – he was Muammar Gaddafi’s Interior Minister, one of his most trusted officials and confidants. The general’s friendship with Gaddafi dated from 1969 when he joined a group of fresh-faced army officers in deposing Libya’s king.

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