A member of the rebel NTC has announced today that an officer in the security service of the February 17 Martyr's Brigade confessed to murdering General Younes after taking him from his HQ on the Brega front Thrusday.
The Tripoli Post reports that Mr. Tarhouni for the rebel's National Transitional Council had said that "The head of the militia is imprisoned now," but the other assailants were still free and added “that while the motives for the crime remained unclear. We don't know who they work for." The officer in charge of the assassins insists he was not the one who gave the order, but it was his subordinates, who actually pulled the trigger. The are still on the run and NTC has said that a hunt is on for them.
Mr. Tarhouni, has reassured everyone that things are under control and that they are just going through a “bad patch.” However, reports from the rebel capital say the mood remains tense, with mistrust and suspicions dominating the atmosphere. Fears abound of possible tribal conflict and militia in-fighting following the assassination of General Younes.
It has been confirmed by another rebel leader and friend of the dead General, who was with him at the moment he died that the group responsible for the murder was the militia called the “February 17 Martyr's Brigade,” and more specifically, a unit called the “Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade.”
The Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade is an Islamist led group named after a prominent commander of Muslim Armies, who was a companion of the Prophet Mohammad and one of the revered 10 persons granted paradise. It is well-known that many leaders of The Martyrs Brigade, to which it belongs, are Islamists from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, (LIFG), an organization with previous links to Al Qaeda. What overall degree of power the Islamists have in the Brigade is not clear.
Revenge for the role Younes played as a General under Gaddafi in the violent suppression of the LIFG in the 1990s is suspected to have been one the key motivating factors. Alongside this were the suspicions that Younes was colluding with Gaddafi and passing on military secrets. The Martyrs Brigade has said that they have proof of which they will be presenting soon.
Reasons of revenge and suspected treason seem to be confirmed by the report of the circumstances of his death. According to a fellow rebel leader and friend of Younes, Mohammed Agoury, who was there at the time, the assassins drove up to Younes' car called him a traitor and shouted that this was revenge for their father who died in Derna.
Derna is a poor run down town in the rebel east, which has been a stronghold for Islamists and is renowned for sending an inordinate number of fighters for the mujaheddin struggle against the Russians in Afghanistan and to help Al Qaeda in Iraq. Some of the leading commanders in the Martyrs Brigade are veterans of these insurgencies.
There is still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding Younes' arrest and subsequent death. It wasn't announced officially until 10pm Thursday evening, though his supporters were demanding his release from the morning and his death became common knowledge in Benghazi by midday.
The exact chronology and details of events still remains unclear, because of incorrect and conflicting statements in the last three days by NTC chief, Abdel Jalil and other leaders. Jalil first said pro-Gaddafi forces were responsible and one of them had been arrested. He then said the bodies had not been found, but this contradicted an earlier statement by a security officer who said they had found the bodies of Younes and two of his colonels, and identified Younes, despite them being badly burned.
There is one story that Younes had been held since Wednesday and that it happened after he had been set free following questioning in Benghazi. The other says he was taken from his office in Brega and killed on route to Benghazi. Western powers have demanded a transparent investigation and the TNC has announced that it has started an investigation.
But just how this is going to play out is unclear. The NTC is faced with a very difficult predicament. It is will be under pressure from Younes' tribe and loyal soldiers to denounce the Obaida Ibn Jarrah group and the Martyrs Brigade to which they belong. However, the Martyrs are the most powerful militia among the rebels and are renowned for being the most ferocious and effective fighters.
A rebel leader, however, told Reuters that the NTC, chief "Abdel Jalil could not directly accuse the Islamists because he fears them. And I don't think the investigation will lead anywhere. They don't dare to touch the Islamists."
Younes' Obeidi tribe are also a powerful force, being the largest tribe in the rebel east, whose support the NTC cannot afford to lose. Many of his fellow tribesmen and loyal troops are saying that the NTC is partly to blame for Younes' death or worse still that they were complicit in it.
On top of this is the issue of whether Younes was a traitor. So far the NTC has defended him, calling him a hero of the revolution and declaring three days of mourning for his death. How they will respond if his treachery is proven isn't sure.
The whole situation is very worrying. How deep the divisions are and what Younes' tribal members and troops will now do is not clear. Benghazi woke up to more deafening gunfire from Younes loyalists early Friday morning, following a night of violent anger the night before. Tribesmen and soldiers attacked the NTC Press Conference Thursday night, in fury at their leader's death.
The thousands making up the funeral procession for Younes later in the day were mostly from his tribe, rather than the wider population. At the funeral Younes had a 300 gun salute and his son broke down crying to the crowd, “We want Muammar Gaddafi to come back! We want the green flag back!”
John Simpson of the BBC believes that the death could even strengthen the rebels by bringing its forces under one command. However, the UK Guardian differs saying that “His unexplained death could leave a dangerous power vacuum.” There are no reports yet of morale at the front, but it remains to be seen, whether Younes' troops will be prepared to fight alongside or under the command of anyone from the Martyrs Brigade.
The murder is a serious embarrassment to the US, who made an abrupt turn recognizing the NTC at the Contact Group two weeks ago. Hilary Clinton said at the time that the presentation by the NTC at the conference had convinced her of their ability to lead a new Libya. Because of the timing of the murder, the embarrassment is even greater for Britain, which only a day before announced it happened announced their decision to finally recognize the NTC because of its "increasing legitimacy, competence, and success."
Gaddafi, meanwhile, is milking the situation for all it's worth, saying it is proof of the role of Al Qaeda among the rebels and that it shows the NTC could never govern Libya. As for the NATO and the West, the Guardian put it well “they know whom they are fighting against, but have yet to work out whom they are fighting for.”