(Updates with Jalil comment in seventh paragraph, site of killings in 11th. See EXTRA, MET for more on the regional unrest.)
July 29 (Bloomberg) -- Libyan rebel military chief Abdel Fattah Younis, a defector from Muammar Qaddafi’s forces, was shot dead along with two of his aides, said the head of the opposition’s Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil.
Jalil made a televised statement late yesterday in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, saying a suspect had been arrested and that an investigation is under way. He declined to answer questions and provided few details in the statement, which left unclear whether the killings were the work of Qaddafi supporters or the result of a rift among the rebels.
Earlier yesterday, rebel security officers had arrested Younis along with two of his aides and brought them back from the front lines at the oil town of Brega to Benghazi to be questioned about suspicions his family still had ties to Qaddafi, Jalil said. Younis and the aides, both colonels, were shot before they arrived for questioning, Jalil said.
As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military campaign in Libya enters its fifth month, the conflict remains at a stalemate, with Qaddafi retaining control of the capital, Tripoli, and rebel offensives in recent weeks failing to capture Brega in the east or Zlitan, near Misrata, in the west.
Close to Qaddafi
A native of Benghazi, Younis announced he was switching sides Feb. 22, a few days after street protests broke out against Qaddafi’s leadership. The appointment of Younis as chief of staff of the opposition forces, which gave him day-to-day control over the fighting, provoked controversy among the rebels because he had been a key aide to Qaddafi.
As a junior army officer, Younis supported Gaddafi in his 1969 coup that toppled King Idris, and has been a close confidante ever since, training Libya’s special forces before being named interior minister.
Jalil described Younis in his broadcast as “one of the heroes of the 17th of February revolution,” referring to this year’s uprising. He didn’t directly accuse Gaddafi forces of responsibility for the killing, though he spoke of “armed groups” at large in rebel areas, and called for them to join the rebels or risk arrest.
Recognition of Rebels
Britain recognized the TNC July 27 as the sole legitimate government in Libya and said it would give the rebel authority access to Libyan oil assets in the U.K. to help the council meet “basic needs” including the provision of fuel and salaries.
About 30 nations, including the U.S., have recognized the TNC as Libya’s legitimate governing authority.
Coffins carrying the bodies of Younis and his aides were paraded through Martyrs Square in Benghazi, past crowds of Muslim worshippers who had left mosques after morning prayers.
Rebel-run Radio Misrata said today that unidentified armed men carried out the killings in a hotel room in Benghazi where Younis was being held. The broadcaster didn’t say where it obtained the information.
The killing provoked anxiety among rebels in Misrata, with extra vehicle checkpoints set up across the city and greater enforcement of the nighttime curfew. Residents expressed concern that clandestine Gaddafi units might carry out attacks.
--With assistance from Nadeem Hamid in Washington. Editors: Karl Maier, Heather Langan, Ben Holland
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