Libyan rebel leader Abdel Fattah Younis was killed and his body was dumped outside Benghazi by fellow rebels who were sent to summon him for questioning over alleged links to Col. Muammar Qaddafi, rebel finance minister Ali Tarhouni said.
Mr. Tarhouni said a rebel leader who was asked to fetch General Younis from the frontline near the oil town of Brega had been arrested and had confessed that his subordinates had carried out the killing. The men who fired the shots remained at large.
“It was not him. His lieutenants did it,” Mr. Tarhouni told reporters in the rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi. The suspects were not identified.
Meanwhile, Colonel Qaddafi’s spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, said that the assassination of General Younis was undertaken by Al Qaeda.
“By this act, Al-Qaeda wanted to mark out its presence and its influence in this region,” Mr. Ibrahim said.
Libya’s National Transitional Council said it formed a committee to probe the assassination of General Younis, chief of the rebel army fighting to oust Mr. Qaddafi.
“The NTC has appointed an investigative committee and we will publish all the facts of this investigation,” said Mr. Torhuni, who handles economic affairs.
He said General Younis’s bullet-ridden body and partly burned body was found overnight in a field of the suburbs of Benghazi but that the NTC had received news of the crime on Thursday when the head of the group behind the killing confessed.
General Younis quickly emerged as a powerful adviser to Colonel Qaddafi, who has ruled Libya for more than 40 decades with zero tolerance for any opposition, and became his interior minister.
A native of east Libya, he was a member of the Al Obeidi tribe, which has its stronghold in Tobruk.
In light of his knowledge of the region, Mr. Qaddafi deployed him to Benghazi, Libya’s second city, to end the revolt that erupted there in mid-February.
The citizens of the traditionally rebel city became the first to challenge the regime in Tripoli, seizing Benghazi’s main garrison to make up for their lack of weapons.
General Younis, sent to re-establish order, encountered a domino-like series of defections.
Unconfirmed witness accounts say that he contributed to the strategic garrison’s fall by guaranteeing an escape route to soldiers loyal to the regime.
He announced on February 22 that he too was joining the rebel ranks.
He affirmed his “total belief with regards to the sincerity of the (Libyan people’s) demands” and called on “the armed forces to respond also to the demands of the people.”
His defection, like that of Mustafa Abdel Jalil, a former justice minister who now heads the opposition National Transitional Committee, was one of the harshest blows to the Qaddafi regime.
General Younis devoted himself to arming and organizing rebels, the majority of them ragtag fighters without experience or discipline, and to coordinate the defection of regular army troops to add some “professionalism” to his ranks.
“He had the air of a cinema actor, sure of himself, well suited to his uniform,” an AFP photographer said of the grey-haired but still athletic general.
But his “conversion” was not welcomed everywhere with open arms, as some continued to look upon the former regime insider with real suspicion.
On March 19 he denied he had returned to Tripoli’s fold, as rumors had suggested at the time, and thanked NATO for its intervention that stopped an attack by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces on Benghazi in its tracks.
In April, however, he also showed no hesitation in criticizing the alliance.
He accused NATO of standing idly by and “letting the people of Misrata die every day” as loyalist troops shelled and besieged the city on the Mediterranean coast.”
“What is NATO doing?” he asked. “They are bombing here and there,” while the city’s residents are faced with “extermination.”
On the eve of his death, he was still leading rebel troops in the strategic oil city of Brega, which rebels took a few days earlier.
(Mustapha Ajbaili, Managing Editor of Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: Mustapha.firstname.lastname@example.org)