Libya's rebel leadership was in turmoil last night following the death of its military chief, who had been arrested on the suspicion of holding secret talks with Muammar Gaddafi's regime.
The National Transitional Council (TNC), the opposition administration based in Benghazi, claimed that Major-General Abdel Fatah Younes had been shot by pro-Gaddafi forces. But this was immediately dismissed by supporters of the commander, who claimed he had been killed by fellow revolutionary fighters.
Gen Younes, who had served as defence and interior minister in the Tripoli regime, was, according to differing accounts, either executed with a shot to the head or died under torture while being interrogated. A number of his relations and associates were also reported to have been detained.
Last night, roadblocks were being set up in Benghazi after units loyal to Gen Younes were reported to have left the front line at the port of Brega and entered the opposition capital. The roads to the commander's home were sealed off by the Shabaab, volunteer militia fighters formed after the uprising. Later in the evening, gunmen burst into a hall where the head of the TNC, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a former justice minister under Col Gaddafi, had announced Gen Younes's death, and sprayed the room with rifle fire.
The death of Gen Younes came just a day after the British Government recognised the TNC as the sole representatives of the Libyan state and ordered regime diplomats to leave the UK. Members of the opposition took over the Libyan embassy and consulate in London and called for the unfreezing of billions of pounds in frozen Libyan funds being held abroad.
Gen Younes had been recalled from Brega by the TNC to answer allegations that he had visited Tripoli to meet Gaddafi ministers and that members of his family had remained close to the regime.
Mr Jalil announced Gen Younes's death three hours after he was said to have arrived in Benghazi, but refused to discuss the circumstances under which this had taken place. However, in a later statement the TNC head insisted that the general had been assassinated by pro-Gaddafi agents.
Gen Younes had defected to the opposition soon after the 17 February uprising and his arrival was hailed as a coup by the rebels. He appointed himself the head of the rebel's military force. But Khalifa Haftar, a former army officer, also claimed to be the armed forces' supremo and the two men clashed repeatedly and created parallel chains of command.
There had been reports last Sunday that Gen Younes had died in fighting around Brega. He gave a radio interview the following day to announce he was alive and well and declare that the rebels would achieve victory before the impending start of Ramadan. TNC officials claimed afterwards that someone was impersonating Gen Younes, who was indeed under arrest.
Two aides to Gen Younes, Col Muhammad Khamis and Nasir al-Madhkur, who had been arrested with him, were also killed in the attack, Mr Jalil said.Reuse content