Four men have been arrested for the murder of an Al Jazeera journalist, and rebel officials claim evidence has emerged that Muammar Gaddafi's regime is sending undercover squads to carry out assassinations.
The Independent was told that four men were caught in the city of Ajdabiya with evidence linking them to the death of Ali Hassan Al Jaber, who was killed near Benghazi on Saturday. Under questioning, the suspects allegedly confessed that they had been ordered to silence opposition figures and drive out international presence from territories of the protest movement.
Mohammed al-Majberi, a commander of militant fighters, the Shabaab, said: "The men had five guns, some of them with silencers and they also had night sights. Bullets from two of them matched those used to kill the Al Jazeera journalist. The men were dressed in civilian clothing and they had thousands of dinars in cash. But they told us that they were carrying out orders and they had not done the killing for money."
Mr Majberi displayed an Ak-47 with markings stating "502 Khetiba", which he said were used by the 32nd Brigade of the Libyan Army. "We had to chase the men for five hours after a patrol found them at about 1am on Sunday. They were driving a modified pick-up truck of the type used by some units in the army. They said they were from Sabha [in the south] where, as we know, some people support Gaddafi," he said.
The death of Mr Jaber, a cameraman and Qatari national, has added to the tension in Benghazi with a number of foreign journalists pulling out, either to Tobruk or to another country. Al Jazeera said: "This is part of the Libyan government's malicious campaign targeting Al Jazeera and its staff."
The claims of death squads came as warplanes carried out raids on Ajdabiya, the only city under rebel control before Benghazi, capital of the recently established provisional government. Seizing Ajdabiya would give Colonel Gaddafi's troops access to roads leading south to Tobruk and eastern areas. This would give them the potential to close the border with Egypt, the main source of supplies for the rebel-held part of the country and attempt to encircle Benghazi. But taking Ajdabiya – larger and more heavily-populated than areas which pro-Gaddafi troops had captured in recent days – may prove difficult. Yesterday planes dropped leaflets on the city asking residents to "help catch the criminals who are causing disturbances". State television announced that an amnesty would be offered to anyone who gave up their weapons. Rebel officials claimed yesterday their units had gone back into Brega, an oil port recently captured by regime forces. "They have pushed out most of the Gaddafi men. There are still some hiding in houses and they are being hunted down," Ahmed Husseini, of the Shabaab, said.
The claims could not be verified because journalists were prevented from going forward from Ajdabiya to investigate. The rebels had initially courted the international media, but as they lost ground there had been repeated accusations that the regime was tracking down locations of their positions from television footage.
Meanwhile, Britain and France continued to push for the declaration of a no-fly zone over Libya at a meeting of G8 foreign ministers in Paris.
In a statement to the Commons yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron said imposing a no-fly zone was "perfectly deliverable".
Three soldiers were killed yesterday in clashes with anti-government protesters in the north of the country, while a provincial governor was hospitalised after being stabbed in the neck during a confrontation with protesters in the eastern province of Marib.
Military forces have been deployed throughout Yemen to try to contain weeks of often bloody rallies demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down after 32 years in power. At least seven demonstrators have been killed in clashes since Saturday.
Yesterday, authorities also deported four Western journalists. A British reporter said that he and the three others were told they had to leave because of the stories they were writing, the Associated Press news agency reported.
The country's largest opposition party, which has been pushing for reform, says its leader has been threatened and is now under police protection. Hamza Mansour, of the Islamic Action Front, had called for the Prime Minister to be elected rather than appointed and addressed about 4,000 pro-reform protesters earlier this month.
Thousands of Christians who have been protesting in Cairo against ill-treatment and the burning of a church near the capital will suspend their demonstration for a week. Thirteen people were killed and 140 injured in sectarian clashes earlier this month, in one of the biggest tests yet for the military government that replaced President Hosni Mubarak.
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