Libya: "We want Muammar to come back! We want the green flag back!"*
Benghazi Rebels Death Squad in full force
by Marie Edwards
Abdel-Fattah Younis, the Libyan rebels' military commander, was killed by fellow rebels while in custody. Mohammed Agoury told the AP news agency on Friday that he was present when a group of rebels from a faction known as the February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade came to Younis’ operations room at Zoueitina, just east of the main front at Brega before dawn Wednesday demanding that Younis come with them for interrogation. Younis was summoned to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi because of alleged links among his family to the Libyan leader Muammar Al-Qadhafi. Agoury said he tried to accompany his commander, "but Younis trusted them and went alone. Instead, they betrayed us and killed him," he said.
The February 17 Martyrs Brigade is made up of civilians who took up arms to join the rebels. Their fighters participate in the front-line battles with government forces but also act as a semi-official internal security force for the rebels. Some of its leadership comes from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an Islamic militant group that waged a campaign of violence against the Libyan government in the 1990s.
The killing raises fear and uncertainty in Benghazi. Thousands marched behind Younis’ coffin, wrapped in the rebels' tricolor monarchist flag, to the graveyard for his burial, chanting that he was a martyr "beloved by God." Troops fired a military salute as the coffin arrived, and angry and grieving supporters fired wildly into the air with automatic weapons.
At the graveside, Younis' son, Ashraf, broke down, crying and screaming as they lowered the body into the ground and - in a startling and risky display in a city that was the first to shed Muammar Al-Qadhafi's leadership nearly six months ago - pleaded hysterically for the return of the Libyan leader to bring stability and a return to normalcy after months of chaos in the country.
"We want Muammar to come back! We want the green flag back!" he shouted at the crowd, referring to Muammar Al-Qadhafi's national banner.
Younis was Muammar Al-Qadhafi's interior minister until he defected to the rebels early in the uprising, which began in February. He was among the army officers who joined the 1969 revolution and remained the leader’s ally for more than 40 years. His move raised hopes among rebels and Western allies that the uprising could succeed in forcing out the country's leader of more than four decades. But some rebels remained deeply suspicious that he retained loyalties to Muammar Al-Qadhafi.
An officer with the rebels' internal security forces - the official security force of the National Council - told AP that the council ordered Younis' arrest after a letter appeared earlier this week connecting the commander to the Libyan Leader Muammar Al-Qadhafi. He said Younis was brought back to the Benghazi area Wednesday and held at a military compound until Thursday, when he was summoned to the Defense Ministry for questioning.
As they left the compound, two lieutenants from the security team escorting the detainees opened fire on Younis from their car with automatic weapons, said the officer, who was at the compound and saw the shooting. He said the two men were members of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade and shouted that Younis was a traitor who killed their father in Derna, an eastern town that was once a stronghold of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.
The attackers shot Younis, slit his throat, set fire to his body and dumped it outside Benghazi along with the bodies of two colonels who were his top aides, his nephew Hisham Al-Obaidi told The Associated Press.
A member of the Martyr's Brigade said his group had evidence that Younis was a "traitor." He told the AP "the evidence will come out in a few days." The brigade member spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals.
From Tripoli, Libya’s deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim, said the government forces had no role in Younis' death. He called for a forensic investigation of Younis' remains, saying that even though he was a "traitor" to the government "he was still a Libyan citizen."
The city of Benghazi woke up to fierce shooting Friday, as the news of Younis' death spread confusion and suspicion. Among those firing were members of Younis' powerful Obeidat tribe.
The killing opens up the possibility of a tribal split within the rebel alliance. Rebel leader Abdul-Jalil was urgently trying to reassure the tribes that the killing of Younis was basically carried out by a rogue unit instead of being sanctioned by the leadership.
The rebel leadership offers an alternative claim--the killing was carried out by “The Abu Obeida Al-Jarah Brigade” a secretive brigade responsible for internal security. Members of the little-known Abu Obaida Al-Jarah Brigade had been sent to Mr. Younis's front-line headquarters near the oil city of Brega to summons Mr. Younis for questioning before a judicial committee. The soldiers killed Mr. Younis on the outskirts of Benghazi before he was brought in for questioning. Abu Obaida Al-Jarah Brigade doesn't answer to the normal Minister of Defense chain of command. No further details were provided about the brigade or who it does answer to.
In extensive inquiries on Friday, it was impossible to find anyone in Benghazi, among rebel officials, rebel fighters, rebel commanders, and ordinary citizens, who said they had heard of the brigade or knew anything about it.
Most of the rebels leadership account of the events leading up to Mr. Younis' death was corroborated earlier in the day by one of Mr. Younis' longtime body guards, Abdullah Baio.
Mr. Baio said in an interview that Mr. Younis returned to Benghazi after he was summoned by a rebel brigade in his own vehicle accompanied by his personal guard detail, which included five body guards as always.
At 10 a.m., Mr. Younis called his family in Benghazi to tell them he was on his way back, his nephew, Abdel Hakim, said at his funeral.
Mr. Younis and his guards stopped at a military base in Gammines, on Benghazi's outskirts, according to Mr. Baio. It isn't clear why Mr. Younis stopped at the base.
Inside the base, soldiers from the Abu Obaida Al-Jarah Brigade turned their weapons on Mr. Younis and his bodyguards, according to Mr. Baio's account.
Mr. Younis ordered his outnumbered guards to lower their weapons.
The rogue unit disarmed Mr. Younis' guards, stole their boots, and tied them up, before disappearing with Mr. Younis, Mr. Baio said.
At 2 a.m. the next morning, Mr. Younis' body and those of two of his subordinate officers, were found shot and burned not far from Mr. Younis's home.
Questions are being raised, if the Abu Obaida Al-Jarah Brigade actually exists or if it is just another deliberate untruth by the rebels’ leadership with the intent to deceive and hold their fragile group of Islamists, CIA operatives and traitors together.