, BENGHAZI, Libya, Jul 30 – Libyan rebels on Saturday probed the killing of their army chief, a murder the Gadhafi regime said proved Al-Qaeda was behind the uprising, as NATO targeted the strongman’s “terror broadcasts.”
“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.
General Abdel Fatah Yunis was the faithful right-hand man of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, 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.
“We don’t know who they work for,” he said.
Tripoli pinned the blame squarely on Al-Qaeda and argued that 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.
NATO in Brussels said in a statement early on Saturday its warplanes had launched precision strikes on three Libyan television transmitter dishes to silence “terror broadcasts” on state television.
“Our intervention was necessary as TV was being used as an integral component of the regime apparatus designed to systematically oppress and threaten civilians and to incite attacks against them,” it quoted alliance spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie as saying.
“NATO conducted a precision air strike that disabled three ground-based Libyan state TV satellite transmission dishes in Tripoli,” Lavoie said.
“In light of our (UN) mandate to protect civilian lives, we had to act,” he said, adding that the strikes followed “careful planning to minimize the risks of casualties or long-term damage to television transmission capabilities.”
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 military 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 Gadhafi, 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.”
“Such tragedies speak to the situation that’s been created by Gadhafi and his regime. It underscores why he needs to leave power and do so immediately,” said Toner.
The assassination of Yunis, Libya’s former interior minister, sparked speculation that 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 Kadhafi 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.
The rebels, meanwhile, said a loan from Turkey had arrived and that they hoped to reach out with food and monetary aid to fighters and their families in the west during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan which starts next week.
Tarhuni said rebels were working hard to bring relief to people in the Nafusa mountain range where months of fighting has left families facing cash, food and fuel shortages.