Category Archives: Transitional Nat. Council

Misrata rebels defy Libya’s new regime

The Guardian reports:

The first cracks in Libya’s rebel coalition have opened, with protests erupting in Misrata against the reported decision of the National Transitional Council (NTC) to appoint a former Gaddafi henchman as security boss of Tripoli.

Media reports said the NTC prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, is poised to appoint Albarrani Shkal, a former army general, as the capital’s head of security.

Protests erupted in the early hours of the morning in Misrata’s Martyr’s Square, with about 500 protesters shouting that the “blood of the martyrs” would be betrayed by the appointment.

Misrata’s ruling council lodged a formal protest with the NTC, saying that if the appointment were confirmed Misratan rebel units deployed on security duties in Tripoli would refuse to follow NTC orders.

Misratans blame Shkal for commanding units that battered their way into this city in the spring, terrorising and murdering civilians.

NTC sources say Shkal, formerly a key confidant of Muammar Gaddafi, turned rebel informer in May, passing valuable information back to the rebel capital, Benghazi.

But Misratans believe that prior to that, he was operations officer for the 32nd brigade, whose overall commander is Gaddafi’s son Khamis.

The brigade took the leading role in a siege that saw tanks and artillery bombard residential areas of the city, murdering several hundred civilians.


Gaddafi offers to negotiate with Libya rebels over transfer of power

The Guardian reports:

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has offered to enter talks with the Libyan rebels over the formation of a transitional government as loyalist fighters are pushed further to the outskirts of Tripoli and rebel forces prepare for an assault on the ousted dictator’s hometown of Sirte.

Moussa Ibrahim, regime spokesman, called the New York office of the Associated Press on Saturday night and said Gaddafi wanted his son Saadi to lead talks with the National Transitional Council. Ibrahim, who was identified only by his voice, has proved one of the despot’s most loyal and vocal allies as the 42-year-old regime crumbles. He said he was still in Tripoli, while Gaddafi – whom the rebels and Nato are desperately trying to capture – remained in Libya.

The offer of negotiations were slapped down quickly by a senior NTC official, who said the rebels would not talk to Gaddafi unless he surrendered.

“No negotiation is taking place with Gaddafi,” said Ali Tarhouni, the rebel official in charge of oil and financial matters. He told Reuters: “If he wants to surrender, then we will negotiate and we will capture him.”

Guma el-Gamaty, the UK co-ordinator of the NTC, said the rebels were “absolutely 100% not” prepared to enter into negotiations with Gaddafi about a transitional government.

He said: “The only negotiation is how to apprehend him, [for him] to tell us where he is and what conditions he wants for his apprehension: whether he wants to be kept in a single cell or shared cell or whether he wants to have his own shower or not, you know. These are the kind of negotitations we are willing to talk about.”


Evidence of massacres in Tripoli

The New York Times reports:

As the fighting died down in Tripoli on Friday, the scope and savagery of the violence during the nearly weeklong battle for control of the capital began to come into sharper focus.

Amnesty International said Friday that it had evidence that forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had killed rebels who had been held in custody in two camps. In one camp, it said, guards killed five detainees held in solitary confinement, and in another they opened the gates, telling the rebels they were free to go, then tossed grenades and fired on the men as they tried to run for freedom.

The report, based on accounts from escaped prisoners, cited no death toll, but said that of the 160 detainees attacked, only 23 were known to have escaped.

On Thursday, there were reports that the bullet-riddled bodies of more than 30 pro-Qaddafi fighters had been found at a military encampment in central Tripoli. At least two were bound with plastic handcuffs, suggesting that they had been executed, and five of the dead were found at a field hospital.

More bodies turned up in the streets on Friday, where occasional volleys of gunfire were heard. Near Colonel Qaddafi’s abandoned citadel, Bab al-Aziziya, rebels began hauling away nine bloated bodies. The face of one was so badly decayed it appeared charred.

Maggots crawled over the torso of another.

“Only a butcher could commit a massacre like this,” said Sami Omar, a rebel.

Six were dumped near a trash receptacle, two left under a stairwell and one thrown in a large ditch, his hands apparently cuffed.

Rebels said Qaddafi loyalists had killed them as they celebrated his fall. But one resident said they were his fighters, slain by rebels.

As he spoke, a rebel approached him, saying he was not authorized to speak.

In a sign of the intensity of the fighting this week in the capital, 40 bodies, many in advanced states of decomposition, were piled up in an abandoned hospital in the Abu Salim neighborhood, until Friday the preserve of the Qaddafi forces. Most of the fighters were darker skinned than most Libyans, a sign, rebels there said, that they may have been recruited from sub-Saharan Africa. The rebels have frequently accused the Qaddafi government of using mercenaries but have not offered convincing proof.

The halls of the hospital were a chaos of beds and unplugged machines, and its floors were painted with blood. A medical technician said that three doctors had been on duty during the fighting in recent days, and that they had been unable to cope.

It was difficult to ascertain the fates of the dead men, who were lying on gurneys nested by maggots in a hospital room and the morgue. The relatives of one victim, Abdul Raouf Al Rashdi, a 33-year-old police officer, said he had been killed by a sniper several days earlier in the Hay Andalus neighborhood.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Libyan rebels pushed Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces out of the last residential neighborhood in Tripoli overnight Friday, but the rebel military gains were overshadowed by rapidly deteriorating living conditions in the capital of about two million people.

The challenges of restoring life to Tripoli grow more daunting by the day. Streets are buried under a mix of trash, waste and, in several places, corpses. Water and electricity have been cut throughout much of the city.

But the rebels’ victory in the Abu Salim neighborhood has made the area safe enough for city residents and journalists to visit its notorious Abu Salim prison for the first time.

A 1996 inmate massacre at the prison has fired up Libya’s opposition for years. A protest on Feb. 15 in Benghazi by families of victims of that massacre, and their lawyers, kicked off the countrywide protests that launched six months of fighting that this week unseated Col. Gadhafi.

The rebels’ national governing body, the National Transitional Council, is just beginning to relocate from its eastern base in Benghazi to Tripoli. Opposition leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil will remain in Benghazi until the capital is deemed secure.

Tripoli was cloaked in darkness Friday night, the first time it has been largely without power since rebels stormed into the capital Sunday. City faucets were dry for a second straight day.

In hospital morgues, bodies are piled on top of each other on available floor space. As rebels claim corpses of their own ranks, bodies of what appear to be pro-Gadhafi fighters are left on the streets in the summer heat. In some places, the smell suffocates whole blocks.

Luke Harding reports:

Libya’s opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) gave its first press conference in Tripoli on Thursday evening. It was a chaotic late-night affair; so far nobody has had much of a chance to sketch out a new political system. On Friday, however, the marchers [in new Libya’s first political march] agreed that after 42 years of dictatorship and iron-fisted personalist rule the country should become a European-style democracy.

“I want to live in a democratic country. It’s the most important thing for me and my children,” Naser al-Shahawi said, emerging from the [Jamal Abdul Nasser] mosque. “This is what the people want. We also want an Islamic country. But I don’t think that democracy is an enemy of Islam.”

The 48-year-old international lawyer said he wasn’t greatly impressed by the NTC – pointing out that several of its leaders “had been with Gaddafi”.

Who, then, did he think could be Libya’s new prime minister? “Maybe me,” he replied. “Now is the first time that anybody can be prime minister, or president.” Then he admitted: “I have never voted in my life.”

Shahawi, who had spent a year and half living in Cardiff, said he was studying for a PhD in international law. Asked what should happen to Gaddafi when justice eventually caught up with him, he was brutally succinct.

“He should die,” he said, then insisted that the former dictator should be tried inside the country, rather than extradited to the international criminal court, where a heap of indictments await.

A group of fighters then expressed their feelings in verbal form: “Fuck you Gaddafi,” they shouted.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reported:

Rebel units were massing for an attack on Sirte, Muammar Gaddafi’s birthplace, on Friday after Nato warplanes conducted intensive bombing raids to weaken one of the last major redoubts controlled by the ousted regime.

On the road to Sirte from Misrata, tanks, heavy artillery and rocket launchers abandoned by fleeing government forces were being assembled for the attack.

Rebels said a British and French special forces team was helping co-ordinate the assault, in which Misrata-based units will push eastwards to meet forces from Benghazi fighting their way westwards.


NTC leader: ‘Free elections in eight months’

Al Jazeera reports:

The leader of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) has said the new government will hold free elections within eight months and pledged to put Muammar Gaddafi on trial in the country rather than an international court.

In comments published on Wednesday in Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil also promised to open Libya up to the outside world and build “strong relations with other countries”.

“In eight months we will hold legislative and presidential elections,” said Jalil, chairman of the NTC which now
controls all but isolated pockets of the oil-rich state.

“We want a democratic government and a just constitution. Above all we do not wish to continue to be isolated in the world as we have been up to now,” he told the newspaper.


Saif al-Islam not captured by rebels

The New York Times reports:

The euphoria that followed the rebels’ triumphant march in Tripoli gave way to confusion and wariness on Monday, as Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi remained at large, his son Seif al-Islam made a surprise appearance at a hotel with foreign journalists, and pockets of loyalist forces stubbornly resisted rebel efforts to take control of the capital.

While rebel leaders professed to be making progress in securing Tripoli and planning for a post-Qaddafi government, and international leaders hailed the beginnings of a new era in Libya, the immediate aftermath of the lightning invasion was a vacuum of power, with no cohesive rebel government in place and remnants of the Qaddafi government still in evidence.

Seif Qaddafi, who was brandished as a trophy capture by the rebels on Sunday and through much of Monday, presented himself to foreign journalists confined to the Qaddafi-controlled luxury Rixos Hotel in the center of Tripoli early Tuesday, boasting that his father’s government was still “in control” and had lured the rebels into a trap, the BBC and news services reported. His appearance raised significant questions about the credibility of rebel leaders.

It was not clear whether he had been in rebel custody and escaped, or was never held at all. Another Qaddafi son, Muhammed, escaped from house arrest on Monday.

Fighters hostile to the rebels still battled on the streets and rooftops of Tripoli, injuring or killing at least a dozen people. And Colonel Qaddafi’s green flag still flew in parts of Tripoli and over at least two major cities considered strongholds of his tribe, Sabha to the south and Surt on the coast roughly midway between Tripoli and Benghazi. The Pentagon reported late Monday that its warplanes had shot down a Scud missile fired from Surt.

Reuters adds:

Saif told journalists that Tripoli, which has been largely overrun in the past 24 hours by rebel forces seeking to topple his father, was in fact in government hands and that Muammar Gaddafi was safe.

Earlier, armed pro-Gaddafi security men guarding the hotel took a small group of journalists to Gaddafi’s Bab al Aziziyah compound, where they had a meeting with Saif.

They returned to the hotel accompanied by Saif, who then spoke to journalists in the lobby before taking some of them back to the compound a short distance away for a brief visit.


Libya rebels have won the war but biggest battle will be uniting factions

Martin Chulov writes:

The lessons of what becomes of a Middle East state that suddenly loses its strongman are recent and raw. More than eight years after Baghdad fell with the same ignominious haste as Tripoli, it remains a basket case of competing agendas, a disengaged political class and citizens left with the reality that the state neither has the capacity or the will to look after them.

Benghazi’s NTC seems to know that the same torpor in Libya will quickly dissolve their claim to authority and have pledged to do everything they can to effectively represent all of Libya. They will relocate to Tripoli as soon as Gaddafi has gone and have already drafted a constitution. On Monday they said it would take up to 20 months to create the framework for a new Libyan government.

But they may not have that long. Libya shares another trait with Iraq – it is fiercely tribal, and the country’s 140 tribes and clans have flagged a stake in whatever emerges from the rubble of the Gaddafi regime.

The spectre of the tribes waging war against one another was often raised by Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, and other members of the regime who said they would either hold the state together, or rip it to shreds.

The tribes will be decisive, especially those who feel they did not enjoy the benefits of Gaddafi’s patronage. Overlaying the tribal structure are others that have competing stakes in Libya, a group of exiles that have returned en masse in recent months and will probably be lured in greater numbers when Tripoli finally falls.

Also raising their heads are Islamists in the east, who were kept under control by Gaddafi, except when they wanted to travel to Iraq, or Afghanistan, which villagers from the east chose to do in large numbers.

The Nato intervention led to the unlikely reality of jihadists who had fought the US military in Iraq fighting Gaddafi under the cover of US warplanes within the space of five years. Their allegiance for now is to the NTC and its ambition to turn a state run under an entrenched cult of identity into a pluralist democracy that represents an array of competing interests.

There are real fears that such a task may be beyond the competence of the 33-member NTC, which has been recognised by the international community more on promise than merit.

With one eye to Egypt in the east and the other to Tunisia in the west, neither of which have surged ahead since their dictators fell in January, NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil will quickly need to convince Libyans that he can do better. At a press conference in Benghazi on Monday, he appeared to acknowledge as much. “My role after the fall of Gaddafi will continue, unless I lose control of the goals I aim for,” he said, before warning rebels that the world was watching for any sign of vendettas against Gaddafi’s men. “I hope that Gaddafi can be taken alive so he gets a fair trial,” he added. He will also be hoping for a just hearing for the NTC. If it can’t deliver as a governing authority, post-Gaddafi Libya will be in trouble.


After Gaddafi, let’s hope for the best in Libya

Brian Whitaker writes:

As recently as last Friday, Kathleen McFarland, a security analyst at Fox News, was lecturing President Obama on America’s “missteps” in Libya.

“Libya and Syria are the textbook examples of why it’s important to pick your battles, and then make sure you win the one you pick,” she wrote. “President Obama picked the wrong fight by going to war against Libya, and so far is not succeeding.”

Just three days later, the Gaddafi regime is almost gone and it’s looking as if Obama picked the right battle after all. The real test, though, is further down the line. One year from now, will Libyans be living under a government that is significantly better than the one that tyrannised them for almost 42 years? Will they be able to speak their minds freely and engage in the country’s politics without fearing the consequences?

The next few months in Libya are not going to be easy – only a fool would imagine that – but nor are the grimmest predictions likely to be fulfilled. Libya is unlikely to turn into another Iraq, let alone another Afghanistan.

The first encouraging sign is that the National Transitional Council – a diverse alliance forged out of necessity – has begun making the right noises. Its interim constitution, published last week, acknowledges the need for give and take. It recognises the rights of the Berber minority and, while accepting a role for Islamic law, also sets some limits to it.

As far as retribution is concerned, initial indications are that it intends to go by the book. Gaddafi’s most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, has reportedly been captured alive so that he can be put on trial.

Like Iraq (and many other Arab countries, for that matter), Libya has its social faultlines. Tribal, ethnic and religious rivalries that were swept under the carpet by the Gaddafi regime will now emerge into the open. Allowing them to do so is the only way to address them in the long term, though in the short term they could easily become an obstacle to democratic processes.

On the plus side, however, many Libyans insist that the social divisions are nowhere near as deep as in Iraq (we shall soon know if they are right) but, perhaps more importantly, in Libya they are less likely to become a proxy battleground for foreign powers.


Fighting rages near Gaddafi’s compound

Al Jazeera reports:

Heavy fighting and gun battles have broken out in areas of Tripoli after opposition fighters gained control overnight of much of the Libyan capital in their battle to end Muammar Gaddafi’s decades-long rule.

Clashes erupted on Monday after tanks left Bab Azaziya, Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, to confront the rebel assault

Many of the streets in the centre of the city, where anti-government supporters had celebrated hours earlier, were abandoned as pockets of pro-Gaddafi resistance and the presence of snipers and artillery fire made the area dangerous.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, who advanced into the city with rebel fighters overnight, said the security situation in the city was “tenuous.”


Watch Al Jazeera broadcasting live from the center of Tripoli

Dennis Kucinich gets the prize for the worst-timed op-ed of the year: “Time to end Nato’s war in Libya” appearing today in The Guardian.

As the war enters its sixth month, it is time for the US president and secretary of state to clean up the mess they’ve created with this needless military intervention, and to work to seriously to bring about a negotiated end to this war.

Negotiated with who?

Kucinich warned: “Libyan rebels are now advancing on the capital city of Tripoli with the aid of Nato strikes; this is sure to result in a real bloodbath, as opposed to the one that was conjured in Benghazi this past winter.”

Well, Al Jazeera is already in Tripoli’s Green Square witnessing mass celebrations and no word of a bloodbath.

Watch events unfold live.


Libyan capital rocked by blasts and gunfire

Al Jazeera reports:

Sustained automatic gun fire and a series of explosions have rung out in Tripoli, reports in the Libyan capital said.

Blasts and gunfire rocked Tripoli after the break of the dawn-to-dusk fast of Ramadan on Saturday and witnesses reported fighting in the eastern neighbourhoods of Souq al-Jomaa, Arada and Tajoura.

A government spokesman had earlier said an attack on Tripoli by rebels seeking to depose Muammar Gaddafi had been “dealt with”.

“Sure, there were some armed militants who escaped into some neighborhoods and there were some scuffles, but we dealt with it within a half hour and it is now calm,” Moussa Ibrahim said.

“The situation is under control,” Ibrahim said on television, adding that pro-regime volunteers had repelled insurgents’ attacks in several neighbourhoods.

Ibrahim dismissed mounting speculation that the regime was on the brink as a “media attack” but more gunfire was heard after he spoke on television.

In a live audio broadcast over state television early on Sunday, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi congratulated his supporters for repelling an attack by rebel “rats” in the capital Tripoli.

Gaddafi accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy of trying to steal the country’s oil and said that the rebels were “bent on the destruction of the Libyan people.”

Gunbattles and mortar rounds were heard clearly at the hotel where foreign correspondents stay in the capital.

Explosions also sounded in the same area as NATO aircraft carried out heavy bombing runs after nightfall.A senior official in the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) said on Sunday that Tripoli operation was coordinated between opponents of Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli and the rebels.

“The zero hour has started. The rebels in Tripoli have risen up,” said Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the NTC, based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.


The writing is on the wall for Gaddafi

Brian Whitaker writes:

Take a look on Google and you’ll find more than 1,500 news items combining the words “Libya” and “stalemate”. Repeating the search for Syria and “stalemate” reveals a mere 109 items, and for Yemen only 73.

This is rather strange, because the Yemeni and Syrian uprisings – unlike that in Libya – are both obvious examples of a state of stalemate. In Yemen and Syria, the regimes have no prospect of restoring the status quo, but at the same time it’s difficult to see how their opponents can decisively gain the upper hand.

That has never really been the case in Libya, despite many articles predicting that stalemate would occur, and others treating it as an established fact. Once Nato intervened and the National Transitional Council (NTC) began winning international recognition, the writing was on the wall for Gaddafi.

It has turned into a drawn-out struggle and Gaddafi’s forces have had successes as well as failures along the way, but the overall direction has always been clear: the regime’s opponents have been getting stronger while the regime itself, under multiple pressures, has been steadily weakening. There is also no realistic possibility now that Gaddafi can reverse this trend.

Commenting on the “Draft Constitutional Charter” issued by the Libyan National Transitional Council, Whitaker writes:

As might be expected, it contains things that would appeal to a variety of different elements. Parts of it have been copied from Gaddafi’s 1969 constitution, and it is interesting to compare the two documents to see what has been included and what has been omitted. For example, the Arab and pan-Arab nationalism has gone. Libya is no longer described as an Arab state, though Arabic will remain as the official language “while preserving the linguistic and cultural rights of all components of the Libyan society”. This is a major step towards de-marginalising the Amazigh (Berbers).

Article 1 says “Islam is the religion of the state”. Undesirable as this may be in terms of separating religion from the state, it leaves the Gaddafi constitution unchanged – and the same applies in most other Arab countries.

The new part is that it also says Islamic jurisprudence (sharia) will be “the principal source of legislation”. This form of words is also used in the Egyptian constitution and it’s something that Islamists are obviously keen on.

It adds that non-Muslims will be allowed to practise their religion and, as in Egypt and several other Arab countries, it talks of different personal status laws for different religions (which has proved very problematic in practice).

Other parts of the document talk about democracy, a multi-party system, equal rights, freedom of expression, independence of the judiciary, etc. Women will have the right to participate “entirely and actively in political, economic and social spheres”.

Taken as a whole, the document has quite a lot of good points. But so too did Gaddafi’s 1969 constitution. The real test comes later, in the application.


Who is in control of the Libyan opposition?

The Washington Post reports:

The retired accounting professor who runs the city council of the Libyan rebel capital wants you to know: “There is good news in Benghazi!” Just ignore the smell.

“Electricity, benzene, water, gas — all okay. No rockets, no fighting — all okay. Sewage? Big headache. But all in all, we are amazed,” said Saad Elferjani, who compared his city — in the most favorable way possible — to a roach motel.

“You remember the advertisement?” he said. “ ‘You can check in, but you can’t check out.’ That is us.”

In recent months, the dueling capitals of Libya have traded places. Tripoli, held by leader Moammar Gaddafi, is now in worse shape than rebel-held Benghazi.

Life in Benghazi gets slightly better every day: Police officers dressed as admirals at least pretend to direct traffic, an exhibit of once-forbidden art has opened in the new Gaddafi Crimes Museum, and the schools are scheduled to start again in September.

“The city feels safe. Things work,” said Abed Dada of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who has spent the past few weeks in Benghazi.

The bakeries are turning out special pastries again. A tank of gas costs $4, less than before the revolution. Cellphone calls are free.

Asked to compare the rival cities of east and west, which were traditional adversaries even before the uprising, one young merchant notes with pride that the price of a chicken in Tripoli is $12, whereas in Benghazi, a bird (imported from Egypt) will set you back $3.

The conditions of daily life in the de facto rebel capital — and the perceptions of its citizens — are important clues to how a post-Gaddafi Libya might function. The evidence in August suggests here would be a fractious, opaque government of well-meaning amateurs who care enough to try to keep the lights on.


Benghazi clash exposes cracks in rebel ranks

The New York Times reports:

Rebel fighters challenging the rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi waged an eight-hour gunfight here in their de facto capital on Sunday, against what their leaders called a “fifth column” of Qaddafi loyalists who had posed as a rebel brigade. It was the latest sign of discord and trickery in the rebel ranks to emerge in the four days since the killing of the rebels’ top military leader, Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes, a former Qaddafi confidant who had defected to their side.

The mysterious circumstances of his death have raised new questions about his own loyalties, and about the unity and discipline of the rebel troops. The rebel leaders’ response to the killing has produced a cascade of conflicting stories, hints of conflicts within the rebel government and signs that its leaders are deeply fearful of tribal animosities within their ranks, despite their efforts to portray Libya’s tribal rivalries as antiquated and obsolete.

At the same time, leaders have taken an increasingly hostile and, some journalists said, threatening tone toward the news media.

The developments come at a time when many foreign governments, including the United States, are recognizing the rebels’ governing council as the legitimate government of Libya, with the possibility of turning over to the rebels millions of dollars in frozen Qaddafi government assets.

The gunfight in the city began on Sunday just after midnight and lasted until about 8 a.m. Neighbors hid in their homes as assault rifles, revolvers and rocket-propelled grenades rang out, badly damaging homes and cars around the license plate factory where the so-called fifth column group, numbering several dozen people, was holed up.

In one house that was opened to reporters, the trail of a wounded fighter’s blood led down the stairs from a blast hole made by a grenade. But reporters were not allowed in the factory.

At a news conference on Sunday, rebel leaders said that three of their own fighters had died and eight were wounded in besieging and ultimately capturing the fighters in the factory. Of the fighters in the factory, they said, four died and at least 12 were wounded.

Rebel leaders said they had undertaken the assault in part because of a new drive to bring quasi-independent armed brigades around the city under the direct authority of the rebel military and security forces. It has been five months since the Libyan conflict broke out, and nearly as long since the rebels first talked of establishing a unified command. But the killing of General Younes focused new attention on the disorder among their brigades.

Asked why the rebel security forces had not moved sooner against the so-called fifth column, Mustapha el-Sagazly, the deputy interior minister, said that the group had associated itself with a prominent local tribe that officials were afraid to alienate. “Since the issue of the tribes is sensitive, we did not want to stop them, from the early days,” he said.

To reduce the chances of a tribal backlash, the rebels recruited soldiers and mediators from the same tribe for the assault, Mr. Sagazly said. He declined to name the tribe for fear of insulting it, noting that “most of the sons of the tribe” sided against the group in the factory. He also said that the group in the factory turned out to include some fighters from other tribes and even from other North African countries.

Through the weekend, rebel leaders continued to issue various conflicting and incomplete accounts of the circumstances surrounding the death of General Younes, perhaps trying to tamp down anger over the death among the general’s tribe, the Obeidi, the largest in the eastern Libya.

There were reports on Sunday that the rebel government was moving to name another member of General Younes’s tribe, Suleiman al-Obeidi, as his successor. And whatever suspicious there may have been about General Younes, rebel officials now universally refer to him as a “martyr.”

The Guardian reports:

Outwardly, foreign backers of the rebels insist the NTC is sound, with French defence minister Gerard Longuet saying Paris was not pushing for an immediate resolution: “Impatience is never a good adviser.” He insisted an end to the conflict rested with the people of the Libyan capital: “Things have to move in Tripoli. To put it clearly, the population has to rise up.”

Nerves remain frayed in Benghazi and questions remain over the role, if any, of NTC officials in the death of Younis, following an admission that he had been arrested for questioning on treason allegations just hours before his death.

In London, the defence secretary, Liam Fox, would not be drawn on the assassination. “It’s not yet clear who carried out the killing, and there are claims and counter-claims,” he said. “It will be at least several days until we know exactly what the situation was. There has always been a mixture of people who make up the opposition forces – hardly surprising given the country’s history – and it would be for the Libyans themselves to sort out exactly how any power structure develops post-Gaddafi.”

Sir Menzies Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the killing raised questions about the stability of the NTC and demonstrated the need for a “wholesale” review of policy. He told Sky News: “The assassination has thrown into fairly sharp focus the whole question of the Transitional National Council. What kind of government [it would be], for example, [if] it ever got to Tripoli.

“I also think that claims of success have always got to be taken with a certain amount of scepticism because it’s not about just taking ground temporarily, its taking it permanently. I’ve been saying I think we should take this period for a wholesale examination of policy.

“I supported the military action – I continue to support the British government’s involvement – but I think we have to have a pretty clearer view about what the NTC would be like were they ever to get to Tripoli.”


Libya rebels say Younis killers were ‘Islamist element’

The Guardian reports:

The gunmen who shot dead the Libyan rebels’ military chief Abdul Fatah Younis were members of an Islamist-linked militia allied to the campaign to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, according to a National Transitional Council minister.

After 24 hours of confusion surrounding the death, the NTC’s oil minister, Ali Tarhouni, said Younis had been killed by members of the Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade, a militia named after one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, suggesting that Islamist elements were involved.

Tarhouni told reporters in Benghazi that a militia leader who had gone to fetch Younis from the frontline had been arrested and had confessed that his subordinates carried out the killing. “It was not him. His lieutenants did it,” Tarhouni said, adding that the killers were still at large.

The NTC leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said on Thursday that Younis had been recalled for questioning to Benghazi but was killed before he arrived. Relatives said they retrieved a burned and bullet-riddled body.

The Gaddafi government has said the killing is proof the rebels are not capable of ruling Libya. Spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said: “It is a nice slap [in] the face of the British that the [NTC] they recognised could not protect its own commander of the army.”


Libyan rebels fear rift after death of Abdel Fatah Younis

The Guardian reports:

The death of the Libyan rebels’ chief of army staff, Abdel Fatah Younis, has raised fears of a rift within opposition forces amid speculation that he may have been killed by gunmen on his own side.

The president of the National Transition Council (NTC), Abdul Mustafa Jalil, announced on Thursday night that Younis had been assassinated by pro-Gaddafi agents. But the lack of detail, and the fact that earlier that day Younis had been arrested on the orders of Jalil, have raised questions about the circumstances of his death.

Jalil said that rebels had arrested the head of the group behind the attack but the bodies of Younis, Muammar Gaddafi’s former interior minister, and two colonels also killed in the alleged ambush have not been found.

The rebels said earlier on Thursday that Younis had been arrested on suspicion that his family might still have ties to the Gaddafi regime. Rumours swirled that he was involved in unauthorised contact with the administration he dramatically abandoned in February or had even helped to supply Gaddafi troops with weapons.

Before the announcement of his death, armed men declaring their support for Younis appeared on the streets of Benghazi claiming they would use force to free him from NTC custody.

Minutes after Jalil’s statement at a chaotic late-night press conference at a hotel in Benghazi, gunfire broke out in the street outside. Members of Younis’s tribe, the Obeidi, one of the largest in the east, fired machine guns and smashed windows, forcing security guards and hotel guests to duck for cover.

A tribal split within the opposition could prove catastrophic and plays on western fears of a civil war over Libya’s oil resources – a possibility raised by Gaddafi.

The discord comes a day after the foreign secretary, William Hague, said Britain would recognise the NTC as the legitimate government of Libya and painted a rosy picture of the opposition forces in Libya, praising their “increasing legitimacy, competence and success”.

Adding to the confusion, a security officer, Fadlallah Haroun, told the Associated Press before Jalil’s announcement that security had found three badly burned people. Two of them were dead and one was unconscious, Fadlallah said, adding that one was known to be Younis, though they didn’t know which one.

Jalil said Younis had been “summoned” for questioning on “a military matter” but had not yet been questioned when he was killed. Jalil said it was “with regret” he had to announce the death of Younis and called him “one of the heroes of the 17th of February revolution”.

Younis was not universally trusted within opposition ranks. Many were suspicious of his past links to the Gaddafi regime and troops in the besieged city of Misrata have conspicuously refused to accept orders from him, to the extent of insisting that their fighters are not part of the Benghazi-controlled national rebel army.

During an interview in April Gaddafi’s daughter, Aisha, suggested that Younis was still loyal to her father and declined to answer when asked if the former interior minister was still in touch with her family.

Younis reportedly nearly came to blows with his rival for the army command, Klalifa Hefter, during a meeting in late March. For much of that month both men claimed to be in command of the ragtag rebel forces as they raced west towards Tripoli, only to be thrown back towards Benghazi in chaos and confusion.

Reuters now adds:

Mourners brought a coffin carrying the body of Libyan rebel military commander Abdel Fattah Younes into the main square of Benghazi on Friday, his nephew told Reuters.

“We got the body yesterday here (in Benghazi), he had been shot with bullets and burned,” Younes’s nephew, Abdul Hakim, said as he followed the coffin through the square of the main rebel-held town. “He had called us at 10 o’clock (on Thursday morning) to say he was on his way here.”


The fight for Libya

In a Pentagon briefing, Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber, the chief of staff for the operational command, told reporters:

As long as the regime’s forces are fighting in and around cities where the allies have ordered them to back off, he said, coalition attacks would continue. He said the allies are in communication with the Libyan units about what they need to do, where to go and how to arrange their forces to avoid attack, but that there was “no indication” that the regime’s ground forces were following the instructions.

A senior British commander said Wednesday that the allies had effectively destroyed the Libyan air force and air defenses and were now able to operate “with near impunity” across the country, Reuters reported. “We are now applying sustained and unrelenting pressure on the Libyan armed forces,” the commander, Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell, said at an airbase in southern Italy where British warplanes are based.

At sea, news reports said six NATO warships had started patrolling off Libya’s coast Wednesday to enforce a United Nations arms embargo, but Germany, which has opposed military intervention in the Libya crisis, said it was withdrawing four of its ships in the Mediterranean from NATO command. To offset the impact of its action on other NATO allies, Germany said it would send 300 more troops to Afghanistan to help operate surveillance aircraft, German officials said.

Colonel Qaddafi himself made a brief but defiant appearance on Libyan television on Tuesday night, appearing at what reporters were told was his Tripoli residence to denounce the bombing raids and pledge victory. “I am here!” he shouted from a balcony to supporters waving green flags. “I am here! I am here!” It was his first known public appearance since the allied bombing began on Saturday.

“We will not surrender,” he told supporters. “We will defeat them by any means. We are ready for the fight, whether it will be a short or a long one. We will be victorious in the end,” he said. “This assault is by a bunch of fascists who will end up in the dustbin of history.”

Time magazine reports:

Khaled al-Sayeh, the rebels’ ostensible military spokesman, insists that rebel forces have captured both the eastern and southern gates to Ajdabiyah, bypassing the regime forces dug in at the northern gate by moving along the coast. They have effectively surrounded Gaddafi’s forces and have even begun to encroach on his stronghold of Sirte. Before long, the loyalist forces will run out of ammunition.

At a press conference on Tuesday evening, without so much as glancing at a sheet of paper, al-Sayeh runs off a long list of impressive achievements. In recent days, he says, rebels and allied air forces have destroyed all but 11 of the 80 tanks Gaddafi had sent to Benghazi. Ten other tanks were captured intact, along with 20 pickup trucks, two armored vehicles and a vehicle with radar equipment. He estimates that between 400 and 600 government troops were killed over the weekend.

But al-Sayeh’s message seems to change from day to day. On Monday, he had been more defensive, insisting that “the army is starting from scratch; we are putting the structure in place.” The army needs training. It needs arms. And the real officers and commanders have no control over the youth gathered at the front line. “The youth advanced today and it was spontaneous, as always. They don’t take orders from anyone,” he said bitterly. “If it was up to the regular military, the advance by the youth today would not have happened.”

I am here to defend Benghazi,” says Muatasim Billah Mohamed, waiting with a crowd of young men on the roadside some 5 km from where the shells are falling. He has gone all the way from Tobruk and has a flag tied around his head like a bandanna, but carries no weapon. God will protect him, he says, pointing to the sky.

Others point to the sky to signify salvation from allied warplanes, expecting to see more wreckage of Gaddafi’s armor. “People now are waiting for the planes to hit Gaddafi’s forces,” explains Ahmed al-Faytoori, a former government bureaucrat, waiting beside his truck on the road. “The revolutionaries cannot proceed without the air strikes because we have very light weapons.”

He has approached the front with a vague intention of fighting Gaddafi, but makes no indication that he plans to move forward into the fray. “There are people here who are prepared to do suicide missions against Gaddafi’s forces, to shake them if the airplanes don’t come,” he says. “But it’s necessary for the planes to come so the rebels can move into Ajdabiyah, and after Ajdabiyah, Ras Lanuf.”

The roar of fighter jets had inspired fear in many of the volunteer fighters and local townspeople along this road less than a week ago. Now it generates excitement. “Air strikes,” a group of young men cheered from a sand dune on Sunday, as explosions to the south sent white clouds of smoke into the air. They turned out to be incoming tank shells, and an older fighter urged them to go down from the dune where he said they were vulnerable.

On Monday, the roar of the warplanes has filled many of those gathered with hope and expectation, but the strikes on Gaddafi’s forces defending the approach to Ajdabiyah never seem to arrive. And as the braver ones press forward into shelling despite their inferior weapons, the war tourists who stay behind get a glimpse of the real horror as well.

Anthony Shadid, Lynsey Addario, Stephen Farrell and Tyler Hicks recount their experience as captives held for several days by Gaddafi forces.

All of us had had close calls over the years. Lynsey was kidnapped in Falluja, Iraq, in 2004; Steve in Afghanistan in 2009. Tyler had more scrapes than he could count, from Chechnya to Sudan, and Anthony was shot in the back in 2002 by a man he believed to be an Israeli soldier. At that moment, though, none of us thought we were going to live. Steve tried to keep eye contact until they pulled the trigger. The rest of us felt the powerlessness of resignation. You feel empty when you know that it’s almost over.

“Shoot them,” a tall soldier said calmly in Arabic.

A colleague next to him shook his head. “You can’t,” he insisted. “They’re Americans.”

They bound our hands and legs instead — with wire, fabric or cable. Lynsey was carried to a Toyota pickup, where she was punched in the face. Steve and Tyler were hit, and Anthony was headbutted.

Even that Tuesday, a pattern had begun to emerge. The beating was always fiercest in the first few minutes, an aggressiveness that Colonel Qaddafi’s bizarre and twisted four decades of rule inculcated in a society that feels disfigured. It didn’t matter that we were bound, or that Lynsey was a woman.

But moments of kindness inevitably emerged, drawing on a culture’s far deeper instinct for hospitality and generosity. A soldier brought Tyler and Anthony, sitting in a pickup, dates and an orange drink. Lynsey had to talk to a soldier’s wife who, in English, called her a donkey and a dog. Then they unbound Lynsey and, sitting in another truck, gave Steve and her something to drink.

From the pickup, Lynsey saw a body outstretched next to our car, one arm outstretched. We still don’t know whether that was Mohammed. We fear it was, though his body has yet to be found.

If he died, we will have to bear the burden for the rest of our lives that an innocent man died because of us, because of wrong choices that we made, for an article that was never worth dying for.

No article is, but we were too blind to admit that.

In a report for The Arabist, Abu Ray writes:

Napoleon famously said an army marches on its stomach, and in the case of Libya’s rebel forces, that would be tuna sandwiches, fava beans and a lot of junk food.

As Western air strikes are restarting once thoroughly defeated rebel advance, the once weirdly successful aspect of their rag tag forces should be gearing up again — their food supply lines.

Like everything else about the uprising in eastern Libya seeking to challenge Moammar Gadhafi’s four decade hammerlock on power, the fighters’ food supply was an ad hoc affair of entreprising individuals and local charities with official sanction that somehow seemed to work — even when nothing else really did.

Rebel checkpoints always featured cases of bottled water, juice, piles of bread and plenty of junk food such as biscuits and packaged cupcakes that fighters can grab and throw into their pick up truck before taking off for the front.

“We never run short of food, we have good kids from Benghazi who come and bring it down to us,” said Mohammed Selim, 23, as he cleaned up the empty boxes of Twinkies, cookies and sugary juice drinks piled outside a rebel checkpoint in the oil refinery town of Ras Lanouf, two weeks ago before they were driven out.


The fight for Libya

The Guardian reports:

Britain, France and the United States have agreed that Nato will take over the military command of the no-fly zone over Libya in a move which represents a setback for Nicolas Sarkozy, who had hoped to diminish the role of the alliance.

Barack Obama agreed in separate phone calls with Sarkozy and David Cameron that political oversight would be handed to a separate body consisting of members of the coalition, including Arab countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates that are outside Nato.

The agreement, which will have to be put be to all 28 members of Nato, indicates that the alliance has resolved one of its most serious disagreements. Countries had been splintering as they tried to comply with Obama’s demand that Washington be relieved of command of the air campaign.

Sarkozy moved to portray the agreement as a Franco-American success. In a statement the Élysée Palace said: “The two presidents have come to an agreement on the way to use the command structures of Nato to support the coalition.”

But the agreement represents a blow for Sarkozy, who had tried to persuade Britain set up an Anglo-French command for all military operations in Libya. This was strongly resisted by Britain, who said Nato was best placed to run the military operations.

The New York Times reports:

With his brutal military assault on civilians, and his rantings about spiked Nescafé, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi handed many leaders across the Arab world what had otherwise eluded them: A chance to side with the people while deflecting attention from their own citizens’ call for democracy, political analysts around the region said. And they really do not like him.

Even Arab leaders most critical of the United States’ intervention in the Middle East have reluctantly united behind the military intervention in Libya. That has given a boost to Arab leaders in places like Saudi Arabia who are at the same moment working to silence political opposition in their backyards.

“The Arab street reaction to the Western attacks on Libya has been warm,” said Hilal Khasan, chairman of the department of political studies at American University of Beirut. “This is not Iraq.”

It is another disorienting twist in this season of upheaval in the Arab world. A fierce resentment about a legacy of Western intervention, fed by historical memories of colonialism and present-day anger at the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, has given way to a belief that the Libyan rebels desperately needed help that only the West could fully provide. The apparent hypocrisy of repressive Arab leaders endorsing military action against a repressive Qaddafi government did not escape many Arabs.

“I see hypocrisy in everything the Arab leaders do, and I’m talking as a person of the Arab world,” said Randa Habib, a political commentator in Jordan. “I wanted them to take such a decision. There were too many people being killed in Libya. That man is cuckoo.”

This new and unpredictable tone seemed to partly explain the flip-flopping of Amr Moussa, the longtime secretary general of the Arab League who plans to run for the Egyptian presidency. Last week, the Arab League asked the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone in Libya, largely on humanitarian grounds. On Sunday, Mr. Moussa said military action there had gone too far. But he repeated his contention that the no-fly zone could not have been imposed were it not for the Arab League.

“We respect the no-fly zone, and there is no conflict with it,” he said, in a clarification that was seen in Egypt, given his political ambitions, as an overt acknowledgment of the public support for the actions in Libya. A day earlier Mr. Moussa had appeared to back away from support for the military intervention.

“In a way, the Arab League is trying to follow the sentiment of the Arab street,” said Shafeeq Ghabra, a political science professor at Kuwait University. “The street is now more in control. If we ever had an Arab street, this is the moment.”

Simon Tisdall writes:

Little is known for certain about the make-up and political outlook of the rebels’ Transitional National Council, which controls Benghazi and other parts of “liberated” Libya. Even its name is in doubt. It also goes by the title of “revolutionary council” and other variations. Eleven members of the council have been named. The identity of 20 others has been withheld, ostensibly for security reasons.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a former Gaddafi justice minister who chairs the council, has been condemned as a traitor by his old boss, who put a $400,000 (£240,000) bounty on his head. In an interview with the Daily Beast, Jalil asked the international community “to recognise our council as the sole representative of the Libyan people”. Among the western powers, only France has done so. But Britain, the EU and the Arab League are supportive. And Hillary Clinton met a council representative in Paris last week to discuss how the US could help.

Jalil claimed the council has grassroot support. It derived its legitimacy, he said, from local councils that were organised by revolutionaries in every village and city. “We are striving for a new, democratic, civil Libya, led by democratic and civil government [and] a multi-party system,” he said. ” Members of the council were chosen with no regard to their political views or leaning.”

‘This is not wholly true,” said Venetia Rainey, writing in the First Post online magazine. “The key players of the council, at least those we know about, all hail from the north-eastern Harabi confederation of tribes,” she said. This included Jalil and Major General Abdul Fattah Younis, a former Gaddafi interior minister who also defected to the rebels.

“Although the tribes’ influence has waned … Libya’s tribal divides linger on. Their stance [the Harabi] is not necessarily representative of the wider Libyan attitude to Gaddafi,” Rainey said.

Western tribes loyal to Gaddafi, such as the Hasoony, had flourished at the expense of the Harabi and other easterners, the Wall Street Journal reported from Benghazi. “Early in his reign, Gaddafi targeted Libya’s powerful eastern tribes, redistributing their land to others and awarding them few influential posts … The weaker tribes’ empowerment [following the revolt] helps explain why Gaddafi’s supporters appear to be clinging to power more desperately” than counterparts in Egypt or Tunisia.

“These guys know they aren’t going to fare very well if the regime goes down,” Jason Pack, a Libya scholar at Oxford university, told the journal.

Eastern Libya also has a different religious tradition from the rest of the country and this was reflected in the rebels’ transitional council, argued Andy Stone, a columnist on the Nolan Chart website. “This is no Solidarnosc movement,” he said (referring to the Polish trade union-led anti-communist movement).

“The [Libyan] revolt was started on February 15-17 by the group called the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition [an umbrella organisation founded in London in 2005]. The protests had a clear fundamentalist religious motivation and were convened to commemorate the 2006 Danish cartoons protests which had been particularly violent in Benghazi.” (The 2006 protests had turned into an anti-Gaddafi demonstration).

Stone went on to claim that much of the eastern Libyan opposition to Gaddafi was rooted in the region’s strong Islamist tradition which resulted, for example, in a large numbers of eastern Libyan jihadis taking part in the Iraq war (second in number only to Saudis) and support for the al-Qaida-affiliated, anti-Gaddafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, many of whose members had fought in Afghanistan.

“It is these same religiously and ideologically trained east Libyans who are now armed and arrayed against Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s claim that all his opponents are members of al-Qaida is overblown, but also not very far off in regard to their sympathies. Anyone claiming the eastern Libyans are standing for secular, liberal values needs to overcome a huge burden of proof,” Stone wrote.

A former British diplomat familiar with Libya said these and other claims that Islamists dominated the rebel movement in the east were exaggerated. Most of the population of Benghazi and other cities were political and religious moderates primarily motivated by opposition to Gaddafi, the diplomat said.

Chris McGreal witnesses the advance, retreat and panicked dispersal of young fighters on the outskirts of Ajdabiya:

The day’s events around Ajdabiya provided further evidence that the rebels stand little hope of defeating Gaddafi’s forces militarily on their own and are relying on coalition air strikes to destroy, or at least greatly weaken, the ability of the government’s army to fight.

Some of the rebels mistake the air strikes for their own victories. They dance on the burned out tanks, wave V for victory signs and declare that they are beating Gaddafi.

But the revolutionaries outside Ajdabiya only advanced because they expected to move into the town with little resistance.

The rebel leadership frankly admits that it cannot defeat the government militarily on its own and acknowledges that if it cannot take a relatively small town unaided, its forces are unlikely to be able to seize the better defended cities further west – leaving France, Britain and the US to decide if they are going to fight the insurgents’ war for them by clearing the way for the revolutionaries to advance.

Alongside the military campaign, the rebels’ political leadership says it intends to encourage fresh popular uprisings in cities still under Gaddafi’s control. But it may find it hard to persuade Libyans to take the risk unless they have the assurance that rebel forces are close enough to come to their rescue.

Members of the revolutionary council have already said they fear that the result of a limited air campaign will be military stalemate and a divided Libya. For that reason, they have called for an escalation of the air strikes to wipe out Gaddafi’s army as a fighting force.

The chaos outside Ajdabiya holds another concern for ordinary Libyans in areas now claimed as liberated territory by the revolutionary council.

There is growing alarm in Benghazi in particular at growing disorder by young men with guns who have claimed the authority for themselves to set up arbitrary road blocks, order people around and fire their weapons for the fun of it.

Even in combat situations, they do not obey orders, shooting at will and wasting ammunition. Rebels manning an anti-aircraft gun were probably responsible for shooting down the revolutionaries’ only fighter plane on Saturday.

Gen Abdul Fatteh Younis, who recently defected from Gaddafi’s military and now commands the rebel forces, was interviewed by the Irish Times:

“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.”

Channel 4 News (UK) reports:

Six villagers in a field on the outskirts of Benghazi were shot and injured when a US helicopter landed to rescue a crew member from the crashed jet, reports Lindsey Hilsum.

Channel 4 News International Editor, Lindsey Hilsum, says that the villagers were shot when a US helicopter picked up the pilot who had ejected from the F-15E Eagle plane after it experienced a mechanical failure.

The US aircraft crashed on Monday night and was found in a field outside Benghazi and landed in rebel-held territory.

The local Libyans who were injured in the rescue mission are currently in hospital. They are the first confirmed casualities of allied operations, almost four days after operations began. At the time of writing, no one had died as a result of the gunfire.

Babak Dehghanpisheh reports on a second American pilot who ejected from the same F-15E jet:

One of the pilots was picked up by rebel forces near the site of the crash and brought by car to the Fadeel Hotel in Benghazi around 2 a.m., according to a handful of people who said they met with the pilot. It’s unclear why the opposition forces brought the pilot to that particular hotel. Dina Omar, 30, an Egyptian cardiologist who has been volunteering at the rebel frontlines was in the Internet café at the hotel at the time. She heard from the hotel staff that a pilot had been brought in and went to see him in a large suite in the hotel. She saw a man wearing a light brown pilot suit in his early 30s lying down on a couch. “He was feeling insecure and unsafe,” she said. “He did not talk much.”

Omar and two fellow Egyptian medical volunteers offered him coffee, which he refused, they said. He did allow the doctors to check out his right leg, which had a slight contusion. Omar, who speaks fluent English, also offered him some Panadol, which he initially refused, until he saw her take a couple of pills from the same pack. He was concerned that the medical staff were Gaddafi sympathizers and Omar tried to convince him of their real work by showing a phone video she had taken of civilian victims from Saturday’s military assault on Benghazi. The doctors stayed with him until he relaxed and opened up a bit, they said. “After two hours, he started to speak and started to smile,” said Omar. The pilot reportedly confirmed he was American and said he thought the plane had gone down for technical reasons. But he refused to give much personal information or confirm whether there was another pilot with him, the sources said.

Not long after the pilot’s arrival, rebel officials brought him a bouquet of flowers, they said. “He was a very nice guy,” said Ibrahim Ismail, 42, a Libyan businessman who said he met the pilot at the hotel. “He came to free the Libyan people.” As Ismail spoke, a fellow businessman said, “I thought we agreed not talk about this,” indicating that rebel officials were trying to keep the pilot’s stay in Benghazi under wraps. Even though the pilot had a radio with a large aerial, he wanted help communicating with his family. Omar, the doctor, took him up to the hotel’s Internet café and tried to help him arrange a Skype chat which didn’t go through. Someone eventually brought the pilot a Thuraya satellite phone which he used to call his family. The witnesses at the hotel say the pilot left in a civilian car in the early morning hours.

This video allegedly shows Gaddafi forces “bombarding eastern regions of Libya” (

“A city held by any organized rioters will be attacked generally in the same manner as one held by enemy troops.”

This is not a direction on how to suppress the Libyan uprising handed down from Colonel Gaddafi to his field commanders. It comes from the newly declassified 1945 US military field manual.

The manual provides instructions on how the military should handle civil disturbances in the event that local law enforcement are unable to contain the unrest. Riots and protests are anticipated to be caused by “agitators, racial strife, controversies between employees and employers concerning wages or working conditions, unemployment, lack of housing or food, or other economic or social conditions.”

According to the manual, when necessary, live rounds should be fired directly into a mob (“a crowd whose members, under the stimulus of intense excitement, have lost their sense of reason and respect for law”), aiming low to avoid injuring innocent bystanders. The manual also says: “Bayonets are effective when used against rioters who are able to retreat, but they should not be used against men who are prevented by those behind them from retreating even if they wish to do so.”

(H/t Steven Aftergood)