Did NATO really kill Qaddafi's son and grandkids in a missile strike?

Did I miss a report on this somewhere or is the sum total of evidence that anyone was killed in the strike the say-so of a Qaddafi spokesgoon? There’s no question that a building west of Tripoli was hit, but as of this writing there are no photos of the bodies and no independent confirmation from anyone, including NATO, that any little Qaddafis are dead. The best evidence I can find that something unusual happened is this bit from a BBC reporter inside the city:

Earlier this evening we heard three enormous explosions to the west of the city. Normally we are taken to the bomb sites within an hour, but tonight there were a lot of concerned faces around the hotel, a lot of whispering and secrecy.

Two hours later we were eventually brought to the villa, which was surrounded by reinforced concrete, cameras, and military positions. This is clearly an exclusive neighbourhood. Inside, total destruction.

There were signs there had been a family gathering. There were no bodies in the house, they had been removed, and we are reliant on the government’s account of what happened.

According to the spokesman, Qaddafi and his wife were there visiting Saif yet somehow escaped uninjured despite the “total destruction” and alleged deaths of his family inside. Reporters from the Journal who toured the scene say the devastation was so severe that “It was unclear how anyone inside could have survived” — and yet the Brother Leader allegedly did. Hmmmm. Daily Beast correspondent Fadel Lamen phoned half a dozen sources to try to corroborate the story, and they’re suspicious too:

My Tripoli sources confirm an attack on one of the regime’s buildings frequented by another of his sons, Hanibal Gaddafi—but not Gaddafi himself, his wife or the other sons. In fact, one of my sources, acquainted with the family’s habits, maintained that the family almost never gets together, especially given the current circumstances, which makes the idea of a NATO strike that somehow hit a nest of Gaddafis (sparing the leader, of course) seem a bit far-fetched.

In fact, several sources in Libya insisted to me that Gaddafi and his wife were nowhere close to the building. Rather than stay with family, or in official and military buildings and installations, Gaddafi, these people tell me, instead stays in civilian areas in apartments and other unsuspected buildings and moves constantly.

And consider that Saif-al-Arab, just 29, wasn’t married, and didn’t have known children of his own, according to my sources. So where did these grandchildren magically appear from?

“Saif al-Arab was, unlike his brothers, not a senior military commander or propagandist,” notes a BBC commentator in the course of wringing his hands about all the bad PR this will bring for NATO. That means it’s unlikely that the coalition was targeting him; why hand Qaddafi free propaganda by killing a son who’s not causing the west much trouble? The airstrike must have been aimed at Qaddafi himself — except that, per Lamen, the Qaddafis are probably keeping their distance from each other knowing that there are eyes in the sky. And even if he did decide to meet with Saif, NATO would have to have spies very, very close to him to be able to pinpoint his location and launch a quick attack. Is that likely?

The rebel’s spokesman in Benghazi told the media that the whole thing smells fishy — and reminiscent of another famous Qaddafi propaganda ploy:

Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton, reporting from Benghazi, said there were “an awful lot” of suggestions in Libya that the news of the deaths could be fabricated.

“One of the main spokesmen for the Transitional National Council, Abdul Hafez Goga, is saying he thinks it could all be fabrication, that it may well be Gaddafi is trying to garner some sympathy,” she said.

“Back in 1986, Gaddafi once claimed that Ronald Reagan, then US president, had launched a strike on his compound in Tripoli and killed his daughter. Many journalists since then dug around and found out that the actual child that had died had nothing to do with Gaddafi, that he sort of adopted her posthumously.”

Sketchy enough for you? Hang on, because there’s one more dubious detail. Al Jazeera notes that Saif is “the most unknown” of Qaddafi’s children and “has been largely invisible since the conflict began.” True enough, but he did pop up briefly in some Arab media outlets towards the start of the conflict … for having allegedly defected to the rebels. That’s almost certainly untrue, of course: The report came from Al Hurra, which is a U.S.-backed news channel, and if the rebels had a prize like Saif in their pocket, they would have produced him long ago for propaganda reasons. The question is, where did those rumors come from? Was/is Saif on the outs with his father? Was he actually killed weeks ago, possibly in combat against the rebels in the east, and his death was kept quiet to deny the opposition a huge moral victory? No theory is too outlandish, really: Read all of Lamen’s piece above and note how Qaddafi’s been “recycling bodies” for weeks, collecting the corpses of Libyans he’s killed and then planting them in Tripoli as evidence of civilian casualties caused by NATO. Did Saif end up in the “recycling bin”? Is he still alive? Or did it all happen just like the spokesgoon said?

For what it’s worth, NATO’s top commander insists that they don’t target individuals, only military entities. But what else can he say? Our UN mandate very stupidly doesn’t extend to taking out Qaddafi, even though realistically it’s a necessary first step to cleaning up this mess. Exit quotation from McCain: “I think if you view Qaddafi himself as part of the command and control, I think you could argue that if he was in one of those places, then it would be part of it.”