General Abdel Fatah Younes, commander of forces fighting to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, has been killed in mysterious circumstances, dealing military and political blows to the rebels.
Younes was shot dead by an armed gang after he was summoned from the front by the rebel National Transitional Council "for questioning over military issues," NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said.
His killing, and that of two military officers, is seen as a sign of divisions within the ranks of the rebels in eastern Libya even as they make fresh advances in the west in a pre-Ramadan push to drive Gaddafi out.
"With all sadness, I inform you of the passing of Abdel Fatah Younes, the commander-in-chief of our rebel forces," Abdel Jalil said in a carefully worded statement at a press conference in Benghazi, the rebels' eastern capital.
"The person who carried out the assassination was captured," a somber looking Abdel Jalil said without elaborating. He added there would be three days of mourning in Younes's honour although his body has yet to be recovered.
Rumours circulated in Benghazi that Younes, Libya's former interior minister and number two in Gaddafi's regime prior to his defection in February, was arrested and killed by the rebels themselves after it was alleged his family still had ties with Gaddafi but these could not be confirmed by AFP.
The scenario that the rebels have started fighting among themselves could pose awkward problems for the many Western powers who have recognised the NTC as the sole legitimate authority in Libya.