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Rebel commander killed

world Updated: Jul 30, 2011 01:35 IST

Libya's rebel military commander was shot dead in an incident that remained shrouded in mystery, dealing a blow to Western-backed forces labouring in a campaign to topple Muammar Gaddafi.

Rebels said Abdel Fattah Younes, long in the veteran Libyan leader’s inner circle before defecting in February, was shot by assailants on Thursday after he had been summoned from the battlefield for unspecified talks.

Some analysts thought Gaddafi agents may have killed him, others that his own side had done so, revealing deep divisions between Gaddafi defectors and those who never worked with him.

Neither side in the conflict clarified the matter.

The killing coincided with a new rebel offensive in the west and further international recognition for rebels, which they hope will help unfreeze billions of dollars in Libyan funds.

The rebels did not say who killed Younes or where, and said on Thursday they did not yet have his body.

But on Friday, weeping relatives and supporters brought his coffin into the main square of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to mourn him, and vowed allegiance to remaining rebel leaders.

“We got the body yesterday here (in Benghazi), he had been shot with bullets and burned,” Younes’s nephew, Abdul Hakim, said, crying as he followed the coffin through the square.

“He had called us at 10 o’clock (on Thursday morning) to say he was on his way here.”

Secret talks
Officials would not give details of why Younes was recalled on Thursday to Benghazi from the front line near the oil port of Brega for questioning. Rumours had circulated in Benghazi that he had held secret talks with the Gaddafi government.

“If the rumours that General Younes was feeding information to Gaddafi were there then it would make sense that some rogue elements might attempt to assassinate him,” said Alan Fraser, an analyst with London-based risk consultancy AKE.

Rebel defence minister Omar Hariri told Reuters his death was still being investigated and his loss would be great.