Bloomberg News

NATO Acknowledges It Conducted Airstrike on Sorman in Libya

June 20, 2011

(Updates with Cameron comment in ninth paragraph, oil prices in 10th. See EXTRA for more on Middle East unrest.)

June 20 (Bloomberg) -- NATO said it conducted an airstrike early today on a compound in Sorman, west of Tripoli, after earlier rejecting Libyan claims that it had attacked the site.

The target was a high-level military command and control center, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization official, who spoke on condition of anonymity according to NATO policy, said by telephone from Naples. The organization said yesterday it may have been responsible for civilian deaths in a separate attack on a suburb of the capital.

Reporters were taken by bus today to the still-smoking villa complex in a rural area about 90 kilometers (60 miles) from Tripoli, which officials said was owned by Khweildi Hmeidi, a senior figure with close ties to Muammar Qaddafi. At least 15 people, including six members of Hmeidi’s family, were killed in the attack, which occurred at 2:10 a.m. local time, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters at the scene. It wasn’t immediately possible to establish whether the four destroyed buildings were residential as Ibrahim said.

Opposition has been growing in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East to the aerial campaign carried out under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians in Libya. Four months after the uprising against Qaddafi began, rebel troops have failed to take and hold strategic towns such as Brega while other cities, such as the rebel-held port city of Misrata, remain under siege by loyalist forces.

‘Civilian Casualties’

Reporters, who were prevented from exploring the entire walled compound in Sorman, were later taken to a nearby hospital where they were shown the remains of several people who officials said were killed in the bombing.

Nine residents were killed early yesterday when a house was destroyed in a northern suburb of Tripoli. NATO said in an e- mailed statement that its warplanes didn’t all hit intended targets during the night raid and it may have caused “a number of civilian casualties.”

The Arab League condemned yesterday’s deaths, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency reported today. “The main goal of imposing a no-fly zone in Libya” is “to protect civilians, not target them,” MENA quoted Ahmed Ben Heli, deputy secretary-general of the league, as saying.

NATO doesn’t target civilians or individual members of the Libyan regime, the NATO official said.

‘War Machine’

“What we’re trying to do is stop the Qaddafi war machine from targeting his own people. There are snipers in towns shooting innocent civilians,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said today in an interview with the BBC’s Radio 2. “Where there are civilian casualties caused by NATO, that’s hugely regrettable.”

Concerns of disruption to Middle East oil supplies have eased in the past month, with prices declining on speculation that Greece’s debt crisis and a weakening global economy will sap global demand. Crude for July delivery fell 45 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $92.56 a barrel at 10:58 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Libya has the largest oil reserves of any country in Africa, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

--With assistance from Robert Hutton in London. Editors: Digby Lidstone, Heather Langan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maher Chmaytelli in Tripoli at mchmaytelli@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.


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