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BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — The head of the Libyan rebel armed forces was shot and killed Thursday just before arriving for questioning by rebel authorities, their political leader said in a carefully worded statement to reporters that gave few details on who was behind the killing.
Adding to the confusion, the rebels had said hours earlier they had already detained the commander, Abdel-Fattah Younis, on suspicion his family might still have ties to the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, raising questions about whether he might have been assassinated by his own side.
Such a scenario would signal a troubling split within the rebel movement at a time when their forces have failed to make battlefield gains despite nearly four months of NATO airstrikes against Gahdafi's forces. It could also shake the confidence of the United States, Britain and several dozen other nations that have recognized the rebel council as Libya's legitimate leaders.
He said two of the commander's aides, both colonels, were also killed in the attack by gunmen and that rebels had arrested the head of the group behind the attack. He did not say what he thought motivated the killers.
The precise circumstances of his death are still unknown but the Transitional National Council say the commander was shot dead by pro-Gaddafi assailants.
However, as Walid Phares, advisor at the anti-terrorism caucus says, there are conflicting reports over the killing.
“There are two theories here. Number one is that he had been in communication with the regime of Gaddafi, and therefore has been called upon for investigation. What is unknown according to the theory is why he was killed while he was going to the investigation.The second theory – which could be even more serious or dangerous – is that he could have been eliminated by a faction within the rebels. And both theories tell us that now Washington and Brussels are going to be very concerned about the internal military situation inside the rebel camp.”
Phares speculated further on the possible ramifications of the assassination.
“If indeed he was an individual high-ranking official who had a relationship with the Gaddafi regime, then his killing will be the end of the story,” he said.
Minutes after the announcement of the death of General Younes three severe blasts hit the Libyan capital Tripoli. There have been no reports of any casualties or injuries so far.
General Abdel-Fattah Younes, the former interior minister, joined the opposition in February.