Friday, July 29, 2011

Enter the Assassins

Rebel Commander Abdel Fateh Younes Assassinated

ENTER The Assassins

Lyban Assassins and Cut-throats

Among the graves at Old Protestant Cemetery in Tripoli are five clearly marked as those of American sailors who died in the explosion of the USS Intrepid Sept. 4, 1804, and one nearby that states the deceased was a victim of an assassin.

Ever since the Libyan revolt began and Gadhafi’s violent response changed the rules from non-violent civil disobedience to the Art of War, assassination came into play, but has not influenced events until the assassination of the rebel commander, apparently by other rebels who questioned his loyalty even though Gadhafi had a million dollar bounty on his head.

Gadhafi himself has been said to be targeted by NATO bombers in deliberate attempts to kill him, and he often refers to the “NATO crusaders.” It was during the crusades when King Richards the Lionheart of England fought with Saladin, the head of the Moslem army. As legend has it, Richard demonstrated the power of his heavy and mighty sword by breaking a table in half, while Saladin’s strength was emphasized when he picked up a silk scarf and let it slowly fall and cut in two by the sharp edge of his small curved cutlass. Whether true or not the legend illustrates the difference in the perspective of the European and Arab mentalities.

From Americans first experience fighting the Barbary Pirates at Tripoli it was recognized they had a penchant to feign surrender only to begin fighting again when the guard was down. As Rubin James learned, they will stab you in the back or cut your throat if given the chance. Rubin James, for whom US navy warships have been named, was recognized for saving the life of Lt. Stephen Decatur during an August 1804 battle at Tripoli. It’s apparent that betrayal and assassination are part of the deal when dealing with these people, then as now.

Knowing the Barbary pirates penchant for cutting throats, the US marines adopted leather collars for the combat uniforms and were thus nicknamed “leathernecks.”

One West Point history professor had expressed the idea that resolution of today’s conflicts in Libya will also be the real resolution of the unresolved nature of the Barbary Wars of two hundred years ago. Certainly there are fighters on both sides that must be considered traitorous cut throats who can’t be trusted.

In the movie “Flight of the Phoenix,” based on the crash of a World War II bomber in the Libyan desert, the survivors encounter a wandering band of Bedouins who make camp nearby. Two of their group go to see if they can be of help, but the next morning they are found with their throats cut, a clear indication of the value of human life in the desert.

From among those students who attended the Wheelus Air Force Base school in Tripoli, there is the account of a young Libyan who liked all things American, especially Elivs and rock & roll. He lived with the ambition of one day visiting America, but shortly after the Gadhafi coup in 1969 he was seen being hung by a mob, apparently because of his sympathy for Americans.

Over a decade after Gadhafi took power, a young student who had been educated in America and had returned home was arrested as a traitor and terrorist and sentenced to death by hanging. His execution was carried out in front of grade school students in a basketball arena in Benghazi. It was an act repeated a thousand times in just one day at a Libyan prison when political prisoners were executed. It was the February 17, 2012 arrest of a lawyer who represented the families of those executed that sparked the revolt in Benghazi.

And now the lead commander of the rebel fighters in Benghazi has been assassinated, ostensibly by Islamic extremists from among the rebels, and an entire brigade has been attacked and wiped out as being a Gadhafi Fifth Column whose rebel sympathies were a ruse.

In response to my column on Sadiq Hamed Shwehdi, the student hung in the Benghazi baseketball arena, “wff” writes, “Sorry but the report on Sadiq Hamed Shwehdi as an example of Gaddafi's "brutal" rule is out of all proportion and context and is more of a cheap propaganda and demonization against Gaddafi than a serious analysis.”

“Executions may have been more public in Libya and even more brutal due to the, dare I say with reservations, ‘less civilized’ culture, development, etc., but even in the UK the death penalty for the type of act committed was still in force up until 1998, while in the US public televised executions are held even today.”

“In many countries even now, life is ‘cheap’ and seeing cruelty, executions, etc. does not have the same effect or significance as it does in the West, unfortunate but true.”

And we should be prepared to see the use of assassination as a tool in this revolt again.

Libya rebel leader Younes killed, Benghazi wobbles

One thing that's certain is that Abdel Fateh Younes, a longtime aide of Muammar Qaddafi who defected to Libya's rebels in February, was murdered today. But the circumstances of his death are murky and troubling.

Dan Murphy, Staff writer / July 28, 2011

That Abdel Fateh Younes, the longtime enforcer for Muammar Qaddafi whose stunning defection to the Libyan rebellion in February was an early indication of the depth of the challenge to Qaddafi's regime, is dead, you can take to the bank. General Younes had been head of the embryonic rebel army from practically the moment he'd switched sides.

As far as the rest of the story – who killed him, when, precisely where, and why – all remains murk and conjecture, created by cross-cutting rivalries within the rebellion and the often misleading and contradictory way that Libya's Transitional National Council (TNC) communicates with the press and the Libyan public.

This afternoon, reports began to trickle out of the de facto rebel capital Benghazi that Younes was variously under arrest or summoned for questioning by some other element of the rebellion. An early Al Jazeera English post said that "he is being held at an undisclosed military garrison in Benghazi. The reason behind the former minister of interior’s arrest on Thursday has not been made public." Al Jazeera reported that some of Younes's men had withdrawn from the frontlines at Brega and were heading to Benghazi to demand his release.

Then Mustapha Abdul Jalil, the head of the TNC, called a press conference. He said that Younes was killed along with two colonels working with him on the road from Brega to Benghazi and, oddly, that he didn't know where their bodies were. Mr. Jalil said, and other supporters of the rebellion insistently agreed, that Younes had been killed by agents of Qaddafi. That is hard to believe given the security around the men and the earlier claims that Younes was in the process of being arrested for allegedly working as a sort of double agent, still in contact with Qaddafi's people, and, in some accounts, pilfering weapons from the rebellion to send to Tripoli.

Benghazi is east of Brega, and the road east of town is largely in rebel hands. Younes typically traveled with a convoy of gunmen. Jalil urged Libyans not to listen to "rumors" and said a three-day mourning period would be observed for Younes.
Another explanation is that Younes was killed by supporters of the rebellion, either out of anger over allegations that he maintained ties to Qaddafi or as a matter of tribal or political rivalry. In March, Younes was locked in a cold war of sorts with Gen. Khalifa Hefter, who defected from the Qaddafi regime more than 20 years ago and has lived for most of the time since then in Virginia.

After Hefter returned home in March, he declared himself – with the clear backing of at least some of the rebel leadership – the new head of the rebel military. Weeks were spent jockeying for position, with whispers on one side about Younes's Qaddafi ties, and whispers on the other that Hefter was a CIA asset and not to be trusted as a longtime exile. Younes ended up winning that round and Hefter has been largely behind the scenes since.

There has been deep distrust of Younes in some quarters in Benghazi since the moment he arrived. On Feb. 20, he swung trained forces under his command to the support of civilians who with Molotov cocktails and stones were desperately trying to dislodge Qaddafi's forces from the Benghazi Barracks, or kutaiba.

His intervention proved decisive, but witnesses who fought on the civilian side that day reported that his forces also appeared to provide a security cordon to still armed Qaddafi loyalists, who retreated to the country's west. If Younes ordered this, it wouldn't necessary be evidence of perfidy – perhaps mercy for men who served along side with, or simply an expedient way to avoid bloodshed on both sides. But for some, it planted a kernel of doubt.

Shortly after Jalil's announcement, an agitated group of gunmen arrived at the hotel where he'd spoken, firing small arms and an anti-aircraft gun into the sky, escalating tension in the city. Witnesses said they appeared to hold the TNC responsible for Younes's death.
What really happened? It may be days before we have a clear picture, if then. But whatever happened here, there have been emerging splits in rebel ranks, and the likelihood that there could be a "war after the war" is looking greater (I have generally been skeptical about extensive fighting in the event Qaddafi loses, but have grown more pessimistic about my own opinion in recent weeks).

For now, the first major defector from the core of Qaddafi's security forces lies dead while Qaddafi, hounded by NATO airstrikes but untouched, remains in power in Tripoli.

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Officer accuses fellow rebels in Libya killing

A rebel special forces member accused fellow Libyan rebels on Friday of killing the movement's military chief, pointing to a potentially major split in the ranks of the opposition battling Moammar Gadhafi.

An angry Mohammed Agoury told The Associated Press that he was present when a group of rebels from a faction known as the February 17 Martyrs' Brigade came to Abdel-Fattah Younis' operations room outside Benghazi before dawn on Wednesday and took him away with them for interrogation.

Agoury said he tried to accompany his commander, "but Younis trusted them and went alone."

"Instead, they betrayed us and killed him," he said.

The February 17 Martyrs Brigade is a group made up of hundreds of civilians who took up arms to join the rebellion. Their fighters participate in the front-line battles with Gadhafi's forces, but also act as a semi-official internal security force for the opposition. Some of its leadership comes from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an Islamic militant group that waged a campaign of violence against Gadhafi's regime in the 1990s.

Agoury said the brigade had an agenda against Younis, because he was previously Gadhafi's interior minister and was involved in the crackdown that crushed the LIFG.

Younis defected to the rebellion early in the uprising that began in February, bringing his forces into the opposition ranks _ a move that at the time raised Western hopes that the uprising could succeed in forcing out the country's ruler of more than four decades. But some on the rebel side remained deeply suspicious of him because of his longtime ties to Gadhafi.

"They don't trust anyone who was with Gadhafi's regime, they wanted revenge," said Agoury.

A member of the Martyr's Brigade said his group had evidence that Younis was a "traitor." He told the AP that "the evidence will come out in a few days." The brigade member spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals.

Younis' body, along with those of two colonels who were his top aides, were found on Thursday, dumped outside Benghazi, the rebels' de facto capital. Their bodies had been burned.

The head of the rebel National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, blamed "gunmen" and said one man had been arrested, but Abdul-Jalil did not say what he believed motivated the killers.

Abdul-Jalil said Younis had been "summoned" to Benghazi for questioning on a "military matter" and was killed along with two aides while on route.

But hours before the commander's death was announced, rebel military spokesman Mohammed al-Rijali had said Younis was taken to Benghazi for "interrogation" on suspicion his family might still have ties to Gadhafi regime, raising questions about whether he might have been assassinated by his own side.

The city of Benghazi woke up to fierce shooting Friday morning, as the news of Younis' death spread confusion and suspicion in the city.

Thousands marched in Younis' funeral procession on Friday, as men draped the rebel tricolor flag over his coffin and carried it to a cemetery, where he was buried.

Younis' son, Ashraf, broke down, crying and screaming as they lowered the body into the ground.

"We want Moammar to come back! We want the green flag back!" he shouted at the crowd, betraying his frustration with the months of chaos in the country and a desire for a return to normalcy.

At the funeral, Younis' nephew Mohammad al-Obaidi called Younis a martyr and a champion of the Libyan uprising, while the crowd broke into chants of "The martyr is God's beloved" and "Allah is Great."

At the cemetery, Younis was given a military farewell with a 300-soldier salute beore being buried. The crackling of machine guns shot in the air competed with the crowds chanting.

Younis' deputy Col. Suleiman Mahmoud has taken over the military's duties in Benghazi.

Libya rebels say Younis killers were 'Islamist element'

National Transitional Council minister says rebel-aligned Obaida Ibn Jarrah group murdered defector from Gaddafi regime

The gunmen who shot dead the Libyan rebels' military chief Abdul Fatah Younis were members of an Islamist-linked militia allied to the campaign to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, according to a National Transitional Council minister.

After 24 hours of confusion surrounding the death, the NTC's oil minister, Ali Tarhouni, said Younis had been killed by members of the Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade, a militia named after one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, suggesting that Islamist elements were involved.

Tarhouni told reporters in Benghazi that a militia leader who had gone to fetch Younis from the frontline had been arrested and had confessed that his subordinates carried out the killing. "It was not him. His lieutenants did it," Tarhouni said, adding that the killers were still at large.

The NTC leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said on Thursday that Younis had been recalled for questioning to Benghazi but was killed before he arrived. Relatives said they retrieved a burned and bullet-riddled body.

The Gaddafi government has said the killing is proof the rebels are not capable of ruling Libya. Spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said: "It is a nice slap [in] the face of the British that the [NTC] they recognised could not protect its own commander of the army."

Ibrahim said Younis was killed by al-Qaida, repeating a claim that the group is the strongest force within the rebel movement. "By this act al-Qaida wanted to mark out its presence and its influence in this region," he said, adding: "The other members of the National Transitional Council knew about it but could not react because they are terrified of al-Qaida."

Younis's death has raised fear and uncertainty in Benghazi, the rebel stronghold. Thousands marched behind his coffin, wrapped in the rebels' tricolour flag, to the graveyard for his burial, chanting that he was a martyr "beloved by God". Troops fired a military salute as the coffin arrived, and angry and grieving supporters fired wildly into the air with automatic weapons.

At the graveside, Younis's son, Ashraf, broke down in tears as they lowered the body into the ground. And in a startling and risky display in a city so allied to the rebel cause, pleaded hysterically for Gaddafi's return to bring stability back to Libya. "We want Muammar to come back! We want the green flag back!" he shouted at the crowd, referring to Gaddafi's national banner.

Younis's death appeared to shake both the NTC and its western allies, who have heavily backed the rebels controlling most of eastern Libya.

Two weeks ago 32 nations including the US made a major commitment by formally recognising the NTC as the country's legitimate government. On Wednesday the British foreign secretary, William Hague, declared the council Libya's "sole governmental authority" and invited the body to set up full diplomatic relations with London.

Western worries will likely be deepened if Younis's death opens major splits among the fractious rebels. Divisions would also weaken the opposition's campaign to oust Gaddafi, which has largely stalled in a deadlock despite the four-month-old Nato bombing campaign against regime forces.

In Washington, state department spokesman Mark Toner said the circumstances of Younis's death remained unclear. He pressed the opposition to shore up any cracks in their front against Gaddafi. "What's important is that they work both diligently and transparently to ensure the unity of the Libyan opposition," Toner said.

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