The Libyan opposition said on Saturday they were advancing in the probe of the death of their army chief General Abdel Fattah Younis -- although they had said on Friday that a militia leader was detained in connection with the murder.
“The NTC has appointed an investigative committee and we will publish all the facts of this investigation,” said Ali Tarhouni, who handles economic affairs for the rebel National Transitional Council.
Tripoli sought to pin the blame on Al Qaeda.
“By this act, Al Qaeda wanted to mark out its presence and its influence in this region” of eastern Libya controlled by the rebels, regime spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli.
“The other members of the National Transitional Council knew about it but could not react because they are terrified of Al Qaeda,” he added.
General Younis was the faithful right-hand man of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, participating in the 1969 coup that brought him to power, before defecting to the rebels who have been fighting to oust the strongman since February.
Mr. Tarhouni said General Younis’ bullet-ridden and partly burned body was found early on Friday on Benghazi’s outskirts, but that the NTC had received news of his death late on Thursday when the head of a militia behind the crime confessed.
“The head of the militia is imprisoned now,” Mr. Tarhouni said, adding that some of the perpetrators, who he said belonged to Jirah Ibn Al Obeidi brigade, were yet to be incarcerated, and the motive for the killing remained unclear.
“We don’t know who they work for,” he said.
General Younis’ death, and that of two officers with him, left the rebels facing a leadership crisis on the same day they made fresh gains in the western Nafusa mountain range.
The United States urged the rebels to stand united and stay focused on ousting Colonel Qaddafi and blamed him for creating the conditions that led to the murder.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the rebels should “work both diligently and transparently to ensure the unity of the Libyan opposition.”
“Such tragedies speak to the situation that’s been created by Qaddafi and his regime. It underscores why he needs to leave power and do so immediately.”
In London, Britain’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, condemned the assassination and extended his condolences to NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil.
“We agreed that it is important that those responsible are held to account through proper judicial processes,” he said.
The mysterious assassination of General Younis, Libya’s former interior minister, sparked speculation that he been killed as a traitor by one of the two warring camps.
A senior opposition figure in Benghazi accused Colonel Qaddafi of playing a role in the killing in an attempt to get rebels to back off from strategic oil town of Brega.
“All these are signs Qaddafi was behind it,” the official told AFP.
General Younis was killed as he returned from the front line near Brega.
“Whoever took part in this crime will be brought to justice no matter who they are,” Mr. Tarhouni said.
The scenario that the unity of rebels in the east –where there are more than 30 brigades –may be cracking could be awkward for the many Western powers that have recognized the NTC as the sole legitimate authority in Libya.
“The NTC hasn’t been able to make any clear, credible statements about Younis because they don’t really know what’s going on,” said Lynette Nusbacher, senior lecturer in war studies at Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
Meanwhile, NATO in Brussels said in a statement early on Saturday its warplanes had launched precision strikes on three Libyan television transmitters to silence “terror broadcasts” by the Qaddafi regime.
“A few hours ago NATO conducted a precision airstrike that disabled three ground-based Libyan state TV satellite transmission dishes in Tripoli,” NATO spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie said.
But Libyan television continued to broadcast, and early on Saturday was showing a repeat of a political talk show from the previous evening.
Colonel Lavoie said the bombing of the satellite dishes was in line with the NATO mission to protect civilians from Colonel Qaddafi’s forces as he fights to crush an uprising against his 41-year rule.
“Our intervention was necessary as TV was being used as an integral component of the regime apparatus designed to systematically oppress and threaten civilians and to incite attacks against them,” he said.
(Sara Ghasemilee, Day Editor of Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)