The military commander of the Libyan rebel movement has been shot dead along with two other senior officers.
The president of the National Transitional Council (NTC) made the announcement at an overnight press conference in the rebel capital of Benghazi.
General Abdel Fatah Younis was said to have been gunned down on July 28 by unknown assailants while traveling from the front lines near the town of Brega to a meeting in Benghazi.His colleagues Colonel Muhammad Khamis and Captain Nasser Nafkott were also slain.
NTC President Abdul Mustafa Jalil said he made the announcement "with regret." He did not provide details of the attack, but implied it was the work of pro-Qaddafi forces active in rebel-controlled areas. He also announced that there would be three days of morning for the dead men, and vowed to work to arrest the assailants.
Jalil made the announcement and left the press conference hurriedly, without answering questions. Earlier on July 27, Al Jazeera and other media had reported that Younis had been arrested on orders of the NTC and was being brought to Benghazi in custody.
Suspected Ties To Qaddafi Regime
Those reports fueled speculation that Younis had been killed by rebel forces. Jalil's version of events was further questioned because it is known that Younis routinely traveled in an armored convoy under heavy guard.
"We've been hearing for the past 24 hours that he [Younis] was missing, that he had been arrested," journalist James Hider, who reports from Benghazi for "The Times" of London, told CNN. "His own supporters, his own close entourage were telling us he had been arrested on the front line in Brega, which is the oil town to the west of here, by other members of the rebel army. They said an envoy from the National Transitional Council had asked him to go for questioning about suspected ties to the Qaddafi regime."
Younis was a former high-ranking officer under Qaddafi and a former interior minister who defected to the rebel movement in February. He was a leading participant in the coup 40 years ago that brought Qaddafi to power.
Because of his recent close ties to Qaddafi, Younis was reportedly viewed with some suspicion by others within the rebel movement. Rebel military forces in Misurata reportedly refused to accept orders from Younis or to consider themselves part of the Benghazi-controlled National Army that Younis commanded.
Recognition Of Rebels Denounced
According to Jalil, Younis was traveling to Benghazi to meet with the political leadership to explain the lack of military progress. Fighting outside the oil town of Brega has been largely stalled since April despite repeated NATO airstrikes against pro-Qaddafi forces there.
News of the Younis killing came hours after Portugal became the next country to recognize the NTC as the legitimate government of Libya. Earlier, London unblocked $149 million in frozen Libyan assets for use by the rebel movement, and Austria said it plans to unfreeze some $1.7 billion. In all, some 30 countries, including the United States, have recognized the NTC.
On July 26, following the U.S. and British announcements, Libya's intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi appeared on state television to denounce the recognitions and the rebel movement:
"I am surprised how the crusader West supports those terrorists," he said. "When there was an international coalition to fight terrorism, we were part of it, but the coalition has changed now. The United States and Britain were fighting extremist Islam, and now they are allied with them."
with agency reports