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The assassination of the chief Libyan rebel commander underscores the murky nature of the rebel opposition group and casts fresh doubts over its ability to overthrow the Gaddafi regime.
General Abdul Fattah Younes, who been summoned to the Libyan opposition capital of Benghazi by the ruling Transitional National Council (TNC) for supposed questioning about military operations, was murdered there last week along with two other military officials.
Younes, who had assisted Muammar Gaddafi’s rise to power in 1969, was Libya’s interior minister and commander of its powerful Lightning Brigade before he defected to the rebels in February 2011. While he quickly rose to become the chief of the rebel armed forces, his tenure was marked by claims that he was nothing more than a transplanted Gaddafi agent.
Initially, it was unclear who had actually killed Younes and speculation was rife that he had been killed for either maintaining contacts with the Gaddafi regime or by rivals within the TNC attempting to settle some personal scores. TNC leader leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil did nothing to stifle the rumor mill when he refused to answer questions about why, where or by whom Younes had been killed.
Jalil’s stonewalling served only to fuel accusations by Younes’ allies that he had been set up and murdered by rival factions within the rebel insurgency. As Oliver Miles, former British ambassador to Libya, said of Younes, “He had a lot of enemies,” adding that his death “could be personal, it could be factional within the TNC.”
That observation was confirmed a day after the killing when TNC minister Ali Tarhouni said Younes had been killed by rebel fighters who were sent to bring him back from the front lines to Benghazi. Still, despite the apprehension of a suspect, suspicion still remained as to what militia group carried out the assassination.
Some rebel fighters claimed the killers were from the February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade, a rebel group that is part of the larger Union of Revolutionary Forces (URF). However, Tarhouni claimed the killers were from the Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade, an Islamist faction in the rebel command.
Despite the lack of clarity surrounding Younes’ assassination, Jalil said the TNC would replace Younes with Suleiman Mahmud al-Obeidi as well as order all militia factions to disband and come under its control. However, that latter directive may prove particularly difficult to carry out.
Specifically, the killing of Younes comes at time when the TNC — having recently been sanctioned as Libya’s legitimate ruling government by 40 nations, including the United States, France and England — now stands to receive over $30 billion of Gadaffi regime funds currently frozen in Western banks.
The sudden influx of such vast sums of money have, according to one Mideast expert, only served to intensify the inner divisions within the TNC, with each faction jockeying for control to “secure the status of being the only legitimate force to lead the country in the future.”
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