To fully appreciate how shady this is, take two minutes to read the Atlantic Wire’s excellent tick-tock of news accounts of how this guy was killed. Rumors that he was dead started turning up in Arab media four days ago, oddly enough. Then word came that he had been recalled from the front lines to Benghazi to be questioned about collaborating with Qaddafi loyalists. (Younis used to be the regime’s Interior Minister but defected to the rebels earlier this year and took charge of their army.) Then, suddenly, he was under arrest. And lo and behold, shortly thereafter he was dead — shot by a mysterious group of gunmen whose identities the rebels’ spokesman is being curiously tight-lipped about. The AP’s story simply reeks of suspicion that it was an inside job:
The head of the Libyan rebel armed forces was shot and killed Thursday just before arriving for questioning by rebel authorities, their political leader said in a carefully worded statement to reporters that gave few details on who was behind the killing.
Adding to the confusion, the rebels had said hours earlier they had already detained the commander, Abdel-Fattah Younis, on suspicion his family might still have ties to the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, raising questions about whether he might have been assassinated by his own side…
Announcing the killing at a press conference where he did not take questions, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, called Younis “one of the heroes of the 17th of February revolution,” a name marking the date of early protests against Gadhafi’s regime.
He said two of the commander’s aides, both colonels, were also killed in the attack by gunmen and that rebels had arrested the head of the group behind the attack. He did not say what he thought motivated the killers.
The spokesman himself alternately blamed the killing on “efforts by the Gadhafi regime to break our unity” and, er, “armed criminal gangs” running wild. Supposedly the “gang” killed him before he arrived before the rebel council in Benghazi to be questioned about ties to Qaddafi, but a rumor being pushed to Al Jazeera by Qaddafi loyalists claims that Younis was executed by the gunmen before the committee itself. Yet another journalist flagged by the Atlantic is hearing that the killing happened after a “major general” from a rival rebel tribe started an argument with Younis at a Benghazi hotel. (Remember, Younis wasn’t supposed to be in Benghazi today; he was recalled from the front.) Any guesses who that general might be? Revisit this post by Ed from April for a possibility.
To sum up, then: The man who’s supposed to be leading rebel troops to final victory over Qaddafi, thereby vindicating NATO’s decision to join the war, is now dead in his own capital on the orders of his own side, in all probability. The best-case scenario is that he was a traitor to their/our side and had to be removed immediately. The worst-case scenario is that the rebel leadership is so dysfunctional and gangsterish that they’re risking their war effort on settling personal grievances. This comes, incidentally, after a week filled with stories about the failure of “diplomatic solutions” to the stalemate, the best of which is this Time piece marveling at the fact that NATO’s been so ineffective in dislodging Qaddafi that we’re now looking at peace treaties that would involve letting him stay in the country. Take a moment to read it. And remember: “Days, not weeks.”