The top commander of Libya's rebel insurgents has been killed, but Abdel Fattah Younes’ (pictured) death remains shrouded in mystery and has raised suspicions about infighting among insurgents.
A group of armed men shot dead General Abdel Fattah Younes, the commander of Libya’s rebel forces, the National Transitional Council (NTC) announced Friday.
“With all sadness, I inform you of the passing of Abdel Fatah Younes,” Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the rebel’s political leader, said at a news conference in the rebel-held eastern capital of Benghazi.
"The person who carried out the assassination was captured," said Jalil, without providing any further details of the arrest
The NTC leader added that two military commanders - Colonel Mohamed Khamis and Commander Nasser Madhur - were killed alongside Younes, and declared three days of mourning.
The coffin of the fallen rebel commander was brought by mourners into Benghazi’s main square on Friday. "We got the body yesterday… he had been shot with bullets and burned," Youne’s nephew, AbdulHakim, told Reuters.
Mystery shrouds death The circumstances of General Younis’ death remain shrouded in mystery. The site where he was killed was not disclosed to journalists.
The top commander was recalled to rebel capital Benghazi in eastern Libya from the frontline earlier this week, in relation to a judicial committee’s investigation into military issues. The subject of the hearing to which Younes was summoned was not immediately made public.
“This is the last warning to the armed groups that circulate in our cities,” Jalil warned on Friday. However, while the NTC pointed the finger at Gaddafi infiltrators over the killing, experts wondered if the incident was a consequence of in-fighting within the rebel camp.
According to the London-based Libyan activist Shamis Ashour, Youni’s death was clearly an assassination operation organised by Gaddafi supporters. “There certainly was treason, a sleeping cell among rebels,” Ashour told Reuters.
“The alternative…is summary execution by rebels, an internal act of decapitation by the rebels themselves,” said Shashank Joshi, an analyst with London’s Royal United Services Institute, an independent defence think tank.
"All these things would humiliate governments that have supported the rebels. Particularly Britain, which came late to the fray, partly for reasons like this," said Joshi in an interview with Reuters.
The killing coincided with the start of a rebel offensive in the west. Around 100 insurgents seized the western town of Ghezaia, a rebel commander told Reuters on Friday. Rebels claimed other victories the previous day, but have been locked in a virtual stalemate with forces loyal to Colobel Muammar Gaddafi for weeks.
Gaddafi’s right hand-man Once a close ally of Gaddafi, Younes switched sides after the rebellion began in Libya in February. While Tripoli considered the general a traitor, and put a $2.5 million ransom on his head, some among the rebel camp remained suspicious of him.
Born in Eastern Libya in 1944, Younes was one of the key players who brought Colonel Gaddafi to power in a 1969 coup. After overseeing Gaddafi’s commandos, the military man became the country’s interior minister –a post he held until he defected to the rebel cause.
"A lot of the members of the TNC were Gaddafi loyalists for a very long time. They were in his inner circle and joined the TNC at a later stage," Geoff Porter from North Africa Risk Consulting told Reuters.
However, Younes was suspected of having held secret talks with Gaddafi's government to end the five-month old civil war.