Libyan rebel military chief assassinated

Oliver Scanlan
29 July 2011

On Thursday, it was announced that the head of the Libyan rebel armed forces, Abdel Fattah Younes, had been killed by gunmen in Benghazi, along with two military aides. The announcement was made by the head of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who called Younes ‘one of the heroes of the 17th February revolution’. One of the assailants has been reportedly captured, with a manhunt underway in Benghazi to locate the others. They have been described as part of a ‘pro-Gaddafi’ group. Other facts surrounding the case, however, are causing concern, both within the ranks of the rebel forces and among international commentators.

Firstly, at the time he was killed, Younes was on his way to answer questions on a ‘military matter’. Jalil characterised this as a ‘summoning’; reports suggest that, in fact, Younes had been arrested by rebel security forces. The suspicion is that Younes, who defected from his post as Gaddafi’s interior minister to join the rebels, had begun to return to his old loyalties, having maintained ties to the regime and had even supplied pro-Gaddafi forces with weaponry. One report states that Younes supporters had attempted to enter the hotel, firing their guns into the air, but had been confronted by NTC security. One of them shouted ‘you killed him’ in an apparent accusation that the NTC itself murdered Younes.

The openSecurity verdict: On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced the expulsion of Libyan regime diplomats, as part of switching UK recognition from Gaddafi to the NTC. The rationale was that the NTC had demonstrated ‘its commitment to a more open and democratic Libya’, having become a ‘focal point for people throughout Libya who want a better future for their country’. Regardless of Younes’ alleged crimes, if the NTC was responsible for sanctioning his arbitrary assassination by gunmen in the street, this does not augur well for the future of Libyan democracy under its aegis.

In several respects, however, Younes’ killing highlights several more pressing problems, both for the NTC and its international backers. Firstly, if Younes was indeed still in communication with the regime, this must call into doubt the loyalty of every much lauded defection from Gaddafi since February. If even a minority of such defectors did so because they saw which way the wind was blowing, there is no anticipating what will happen if the wind changes. There is also the possibility of authorised defections for the purpose of intelligence-gathering via double-agents. Recent debates surrounding the timing of Gaddafi’s departure in the face of the regimes’ continued survival could lead to greater uncertainty in the minds of Libyans with no definite loyalties to either side.

Finally, and potentially most problematically, Younes supporters are drawn from the Obeidi tribe, one of the largest in the East of the country. The bodies of Younes and his aides are yet to be handed over. If the suspicion of foul play on the part of the NTC gathers momentum, there is the potential that his slaying may cause an open break in the delicate rebel coalition, with disastrous results. Even if the best case scenario that Younes was not in contact with the regime and that he was assassinated by pro-Gaddafi forces and not the NTC, this is still news that must trouble the coalition of powers supportive of the NTC. William Hague has stated that the rebel forces are increasingly capable, and yet it is still apparently possible for their military chief to be gunned down in the street by pro-Gaddafi forces in the de facto capital of the resistance.

Peres in secret talks with Palestinian leadership

Israeli President Shimon Peres has been engaged in clandestine talks with Palestinian leaders in an attempt to broker a compromise that will diffuse an impending bid for unilateral recognition by the UN of the state of Palestine. It has been reported that on Tuesday 26 July, Peres held a lengthy meeting with the head Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, where they discussed a formula that would effectively bypass the ‘Green Line’ as the starting point for all negotiations. The ‘Green Line’, which comprises the borders of the state of Israel prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, separates the widely internationally recognised boundary of Israel from the occupied West Bank, and has provided the cornerstone of Palestinian-Israel negotiations for over twenty years.

Possible solutions discussed at the meeting included an exchange of territory or another form of compensation for Palestinian territory in the West Bank that has been annexed by Israeli settlement since 1967. The negotiations apparently have the full backing of the increasingly embattled Israeli Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu. The newly reconciled Hamas Islamist movement and Palestinian Authority are planning to petition the UN in September to unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state; it is feared that, if negotiations are not successful before this point, the September bid will lead to a rise in communitarian tensions and fresh outbreaks of violence.

Roadside bombs kill 23 in Afghanistan

On Friday it was reported that roadside bombs had killed 23 civilians in two separate attacks in Helmand province, Afghanistan. The first incident saw a minibus carrying nineteen people to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gar, hit by a mine, killing everybody on board. When Afghan security forces arrived at the scene of the attack, they came under fire from Taliban fighters. The same day, at Gamsir district south of Lashkar Gar, a tractor was hit, killing four people.

Helmand province is deep within Afghanistan’s Pashtun belt, the ethno-linguistic region where the Taliban have most support. The deaths occurred only one day after seventeen people, including twelve children, were killed when insurgent suicide bombers struck government buildings in the neighbouring province of Uruzgan. The UN mission in Afghanistan has already reported that the first six months of 2011 have been the deadliest for civilians since the beginning of the ten year conflict.

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