In a potentially destabilizing development for the rebels fighting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the commander of Libya’s opposition armed forces was shot and killed just before arriving for questioning by rebel authorities.
Just hours before he was killed, the rebels said they had detained Abdel-Fattah Younis “on suspicion his family might still have ties to the regime,” the Associated Press reported. The opposition’s recently recognized Transitional National Council’s press conference offered little details to address ensuing speculation that Younis may have been killed by rebels. The head of the TNC council called Younis “one of the heroes” of the fight against Qaddafi, and said that the leader of the group behind the attack had been arrested. He took no questions.
Younis resigned from his post as Qaddafi’s Interior minister in February, decrying Qaddafi's plans to attack civilians on a wide scale. Amid a wave of defections of former Qaddafi loyalists, Younis's resignation had raised hopes that the protest movement could become powerful enough to force the departure of the longtime autocrat. Months later, the situation on the ground is still largely stalemated despite NATO's bombardment of Qaddafi's ground forces and command-and-control centers.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that Thursday, the day Younis was killed, was a day of "dramatic military victories" for the rebel forces, who gained new ground in the Western Mountains. However, the announcement of their leader's death fueled fears of rebel infighting at a critical time: "Minutes after the announcement, soldiers loyal to Mr. Younis, many of them former special-forces commandoes, opened fire on the hotel, shattering windows and sending journalists and rebel officials scurrying for cover," The Journal reported.