Defector whose past may have caught up with him

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The Independent Online

The mysteries that surrounded the life of rebel commander Abdel Fatah Younes and his subsequent savage death continued yesterday with his funeral.

The coffin was carried among hundreds of mourners, but there were doubts about the remains it carried. The corpses of the General and two of his senior officers were said to have been burned beyond recognition and no autopsies had been carried out before the burial.

The coffin was draped in the old monarchist tricolour flag which has been adopted by the rebels, replacing the green banner introduced by Muammar Gaddafi. But there were questions as to where the true loyalties of Younes, regime minister turned revolutionary, really lay. It was this dangerous ambiguity which may have led to his assassination.

The defection of General Younes, a former personal friend of Col Gaddafi, had been hailed by the rebels as a great triumph. But bitter recriminations about his past while head of home affairs and public security refused to go away.

Soon after the 17 February revolution, a press conference at the Ouzo hotel in Benghazi held by Gen Younes after he became the head of rebel forces was interrupted by a man charging into the auditorium shouting: "You killed my son five years ago, you bastard." The episode referred to was in 2006 when a demonstration held over the publication of cartoons in Danish newspapers about the prophet Mohamed was broken up by police and militia of Younes' interior ministry.

There was a similar encounter on the road to the front line when a member of al-Shabaab, the volunteer rebel fighters, shouted that the General had been responsible for his brother's long sentence in the notorious Abu Salem prison.

Gen Younes denied personal responsibility for any rights abuses. He claimed that when Col Gaddafi sent him to quell demonstrations in February he told the special forces unit under his command not to open fire on protesters. But Younes also cautioned against the rebels seeking the wholesale destruction of the regime. He forecast that Gaddafi would fight to the end, unlike his fellow dictators Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, as many in the opposition leadership and their Western sponsors had predicted. This added to the suspicions of his enemies in the rebel ranks about the General's motives.

However, Younes consolidated his position as the head of the rebel military forces, eventually seeing off a challenge from Khalifa Heftar, another former regime stalwart who had returned from 20 years in exile in the US and demanded to be made commander. Younes's victory in being raised to military supremo did not translate into triumph on the field.

The rebels, disorganised and averse to combat, were repeatedly chased off by regime forces and faced defeat until Nato intervened with air strikes. But after four months of bombing, the opposition had made few significant gains in the east and some in the rebel leadership were muttering about the "enemy within".

Younes, it was claimed, had visited Tripoli secretly and members of his family remained close to the regime. An interview given by Aisha, the daughter of Col Gaddafi, hinting that the General was among opposition figures who had kept contact with her father, probably helped to seal the former minister's fate.

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