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'Three journalists killed in Nato raid'

Libya said three journalists were killed in a Nato air strike on state television today and that the murder of the rebels' army chief proved al Qaeda was instigating the country's armed revolt.

world Updated: Jul 30, 2011 20:59 IST

Libya said three journalists were killed in a Nato air strike on state television on Saturday and that the murder of the rebels' army chief proved al Qaeda was instigating the country's armed revolt.

"Three of our colleagues were murdered and 15 injured while performing their professional duty as Libyan journalists," said Khaled Basilia, director of Al-Jamahiriya television's English-language service.

He branded the air strike "an act of international terrorism and in violation of UN Security Council resolutions."

Earlier, Nato in Brussels announced it had carried out precision strikes on three Libyan television transmitters to silence "terror broadcasts" by Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

"Nato conducted a precision air strike that disabled three ground-based Libyan state TV satellite transmission dishes in Tripoli... with the intent of degrading Gaddafi's use of satellite television as a means to intimidate the Libyan people and incite acts of violence against them," the alliance said.

"In light of our (UN) mandate to protect civilian lives, we had to act. After due consideration and careful planning to minimize the risks of casualties or long-term damage to television transmission capabilities, Nato performed the strike," he said.

But Basilia said the channel posed no threat to civilians.

"We are not a military target, we are not commanders in the army and we do not pose threat to civilians," he insisted.

"We are performing our job as journalists representing what we wholeheartedly believe is the reality of Nato's aggression and the violence in Libya," Basilia said.

Libyan rebels, meanwhile, probed the killing of their army chief, General Abdel Fatah Yunis.

"The NTC has appointed an investigative committee and we will publish all the facts of this investigation," said Ali Tarhuni, who handles economic affairs for the rebel National Transitional Council.

Yunis was the faithful right-hand man of Gaddafi, participating in the 1969 coup that brought him to power, before defecting to the rebels fighting to oust the strongman since February.

Tarhuni said Yunis's bullet-ridden and partly burned body was found early on Friday on Benghazi's outskirts, but that the NTC had received news of his death late on Thursday when the head of a militia behind the crime confessed.

"The head of the militia is imprisoned now," Tarhuni said, adding that some of the perpetrators, who he said belonged to Jirah Ibn al-Obeidi brigade, were yet to be incarcerated, and the motive for the killing remained unclear.

Tripoli pinned the blame squarely on al Qaeda and argued the killing exposed the impotence of the NTC.

"By this act, al Qaeda wanted to mark out its presence and its influence in this region" of eastern Libya controlled by the rebels, regime spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli.

"The other members of the National Transitional Council knew about it but could not react because they are terrified of al Qaeda," he added.

An AFP journalist in Tripoli said a dozen explosions shook the Libyan capital on Friday night -- the latest of many blasts in a city which has been targeted almost daily by Nato air raids.

The alliance, in its daily update, said warplanes also hit 13 military targets in the strategic oil town of Brega and 12 in Zliten, west of the rebel-held city of Misrata, among a total of 56 strike sorties on Friday.

Yunis's death, and that of two officers with him, left the rebels facing a military leadership crisis on the same day they made fresh gains in the western Nafusa mountain range.

The United States urged the rebels to stand united and stay focused on ousting Gaddafi, and blamed the veteran Libyan leader for creating the conditions that led to the murder.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the rebels should "work both diligently and transparently to ensure the unity of the Libyan opposition."

The assassination of Yunis, Libya's former interior minister, sparked speculation he had been killed as a traitor by one of the two warring camps or as a form of revenge for his past role in crushing the Islamists.

A senior opposition figure in the rebel capital of Benghazi accused Gaddafi of playing a role in the murder in an attempt to press rebels to back off from Brega.

Yunis was killed as he returned to Benghazi from the front line near Brega on the orders of the NTC.

"Whoever took part in this crime will be brought to justice no matter who they are," Tarhuni said.

The unity of rebels in the east -- where there are more than 30 brigades -- is crucial for the many Western powers which have recognised the NTC as the sole legitimate authority in Libya.