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article imageLibya: Rebel Commander Assassinated- updated

By Stephen Morgan     Jul 29, 2011 in World
Following much confusion and unrest it has been confirmed that General Younes, rebel Chief of Staff was killed by other militia men and not pro-Gaddafi forces.
Following a confession by one of the murderers, it has been confirmed this evening that militiamen send to arrest General Younes took the decision to execute him, rather than bring him in for questioning. The fact that a group of soldiers, who were members of the rebel security forces would flagrantly disobey the orders of the NTC and assassinate the Commander in Chief casts doubts on the authority of the rebel leadership and the extent of its control over its own armed armed forces.
It also raises important questions about the future of Libya itself. It will cause worries among Western powers who have recently thrown their weight behind thel National Transitional Council on the basis that they were now convinced that the governing body in the east was strong enough to maintain unity and law and order in a new Libya. The assassination of its Army Commander by other militia men throws a new light upon the situation.
Al Jazeera reported that Younes had been arrested by the rebel council early Thursday. A rebel military spokesman Mohammed Al Rijali stated that rebel security forces arrested Younis and his military aids in the morning at his operations room on the eastern front near Brega. He said that he was then taken to Benghazi. Younes was arrested on Jalil's orders for what he called “military matters,” while others have said it concerned allegations of collaboration with Gaddafi.
There was considerable confusion yesterday on what exactly happened due to incoherent and conflicting explanations by NTC Chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil and contradictory reports from other rebel leaders. At the moment, the exact details are still not known, but it would appear that Jalil's earlier assertion that Younes was murdered while on route to Benghazi for questioning has proved correct.
Jalil had said that a member of the pro-Gaddafi assassins had been arrested and the others were being hunted down. But the news tonight that his murderers were other rebel militiamen puts an end to the official line that Gaddafi had a hand.
Furious at hearing of Younes' arrest, troops loyal to the General left the front lines on mass and were already on the streets of Benghazi late morning threatening to free him from custody. By midday Thursday, his death was already common knowledge in Benghazi and although there was no official announcement of the death until 10.00 in the evening, the city was rife with rumors that he had been killed by other freedom fighters.
A security officer said they had found the bodies of Younes and his aids and made a positive identification of Younes, despite the bodies being badly burned. He also said one of them was still alive, but that has not been confirmed. It is also rumored that Younes was tortured to death and this could help explain why the bodies were burned, in order to cover up evidence of the manner of death.
Reports from Benghazi have described the atmosphere as "tense," "chaotic" and "divided."
Younes' own troops, who make up the majority of the forces on the Eastern front, were already convinced that the General was assassinated by a rival militia and members of his own tribe were furious about the death of one of their leaders.
His tribe the Obeidi, is the largest tribe in the east and controls most of its territory. There are even fears that Younes' death could lead to serious tribal conflict amongst the rebels and there have already been reports of some inter-tribal violence. Fears of this were illustrated by the fact that Jalil chose to be flanked on the platform of the Press Conference yesterday night by two Obeidi members, rather than other NTC officials, in what was clearly an attempt to calm tensions and call for unity.
The anger among Younes' forces and members of his tribe blew up the yesterday's Press Conference itself. While Jalil was making his announcement angry tribesmen and soldiers were gathered outside. According to The Independent Jalil's first claim of Younes being killed by pro-Gaddafi forces “was immediately dismissed by supporters of the commander, who claimed he had been killed by fellow revolutionary fighters.” Many even said that they were convinced that the NTC was responsible for his murder and mayhem broke out at the scene. Al Jazeera reported that “Some of the men shouted, "You killed him," in reference to the NTC.”
Violence erupted when (New York Times) “a pickup truck full of angry armed Obeidi tribesmen arrived at the front of the hotel. Some fired their Kalashnikovs at hotel windows, shattering them, and others shot into the air.” Then according to The Tripoli Post “ two vehicles loaded with an anti-aircraft gun and at least a dozen armed men shooting in the air burst into the grounds of the Tibesti hotel” The Wall Street Journal said “many of them former special-forces commandoes, opened fire on the hotel shattering windows and sending journalists and rebel officials scurrying for cover.” It continued, “Two more trucks raced by the hotel firing in the air, one pointing a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, before rebel authorities anxiously sealed the hotel and the block.”
Younes' troops, which number hundreds and possibly thousands, and whose core is made up of the former Gaddafi crack interior ministry battalions, could be a formidable force to deal with. The Wall Street Journal warned that on. they “are blaming a rival military brigade for the attack and appeared intent on taking revenge.” Roadblocks were set up “as they roamed the rebels' de facto capital of Benghazi, firing off bursts of gunfire late Thursday night.”
There are dozens of independent militias in the East not under the command of anyone, some of whom don't even consider themselves part of the rebel army. One of the biggest independent militias is “The Martyrs of the Feb. 17 Revolution Brigade,” which is virtually a law unto itself and claims to independently control large armed forces in the East as well as in Misrata and the Western Mountains. It has its own police and security forces and there has been a great deal of animosity between it and Younes' regular army units for a long time.
Frictions between the different armed militias within the rebel forces have existed from the beginning of the conflict. In March, Younes almost came to blows with another military figure, Khalifa Heftar, over who was actually the commander of the rebel army. Many rebels have been suspicious about Younes since he defected, suspecting that he might be maintaining links to Gaddafi, as he was one of his closest allies. Indeed, many of the militia men refused point blank to take orders from Younes.
Even if Younes was guilty of collaboration with Gaddafi forces, it will not erase the concerns about power struggles behind rebel lines. Analysts fear that the incident could lead to a split in the rebel leadership and undermine its military forces in the battle against Gaddafi.
The events surrounding Younes' death also raise the issue of what steps can be taken to avoid scenarios like this escalating into civil strife in a new Libya. Already, there has been discussion about a UN and possibly an AU and/or Muslim force policing the streets in the transitional phase. Undoubtedly, these plans will be have to be given much more thought after today.
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