[Marxism] Clashes show divisions among rebels, and some Gadhafi support in Benghazi

Fred Feldman ffeldman at verizon.net
Mon Aug 1 16:43:33 MDT 2011

July 31, 2011
Clash in Benghazi Exposes Cracks in Libyan Rebel Ranks

BENGHAZI — Rebel fighters challenging the rule of Col. Muammar 
el-Qaddafi fought a pitched eight-hour battle overnight and Sunday 
morning against what their leaders called a “fifth column” of Qaddafi 
loyalists. The fighting raised fresh questions about divisions, distrust 
and deception in the rebel ranks in the days after the killing of the 
rebels’ top military leader, a general who defected from Colonel 
Qaddafi’s army early in the rebellion.

The sound of rifle, revolver and rocket-propelled grenade fire echoed in 
a neighborhood of the city from midnight to eight in the morning on 
Sunday, forcing residents to take cover in their homes and diverting 
traffic. By daybreak, a number of buildings were badly damaged. In one 
house that was opened to reporters, a trail of an injured fighter’s 
blood led down the stairs from a blast hole made by a grenade.

Leaders of the rebel security forces told reporters at a news conference 
on Sunday that they had laid siege to a license-plate factory where 
about 50 fighters were holed up, and eventually captured them. The rebel 
leaders said the fighters were loyalists who had posed as one of many 
loosely confederated rebel brigades, in this case a unit associated with 
large tribe in the region. The leaders said their own forces suffered 3 
dead and 8 injured, while the group in the factory suffered 4 dead and 
at least 12 injured.

The fighters in the license-plate factory were not believed to have 
played a role in the killing of the rebel commander, Gen. Abdel Fatah 
Younes, last Thursday under circumstances that remain mysterious. But 
the clash came at a time when the rebels were trying to organize their 
forces more tightly under a unified command.

Through the weekend, rebel leaders continued to issue various 
conflicting and incomplete accounts of the circumstances surrounding the 
death of General Younes, a former close confidante and interior minister 
of Colonel Qaddafi, as the leaders sought to tamp down anger over the 
death among the general’s tribe, the Obeidi, the largest in the eastern 

At the same time, leaders have taken an increasingly hostile and, some 
journalists said, threatening tone toward the news media. Reporters were 
once allowed broad access in and around Benghazi, the de facto rebel 
capital, but they are now largely kept away from the front lines or from 
top rebel officials. The developments come at a time when many foreign 
governments, including the United States, are recognizing the rebels’ 
governing council as the legitimate government of Libya, with the 
possibility of turning over to the rebels millions of dollars in frozen 
Qaddafi government assets.

The various official explanations of General Younes’s death that have 
emerged generally say he died after he was brought back from the front 
lines by a group of rebel soldiers bearing some kind of summons — a 
subpoena in some accounts, an arrest warrant in others. Officials have 
at some times suggested that he was to be questioned about tactical 
matters or supply shortages, and at others that it was a judicial or 
criminal summons. Accounts of the chronology — such as whether the 
general was killed after questioning or before he could be questioned, 
have also varied.

Because of his former top role in the Qaddafi government — he was one of 
the officers who took part in Colonel Qaddafi’s 1969 coup and later 
presided over the detention and torture of untold numbers of dissidents 
— many people here have suspected General Younes of divided loyalties. 
At his funeral, his son reportedly called out for a return to Colonel 
Qaddafi’s rule.

Rebel leaders say they have arrested the leader of the rebel soldiers 
who brought the general back to Benghazi, but they have not accused him 
of playing a role in the killing, and it is not clear whether the 
soldiers he led are suspected of murdering General Younes, whose body 
was found badly burned and riddled with bullets.

A spokesman for the rebels’ defense ministry has said the summons or 
arrest warrant for the general had been cancelled and that the group of 
soldiers acted inappropriately. The spokesman questioned the authority 
of the rebel minister of finance, who seemed to offer a conflicting 
account at another news conference. But others, including the rebels’ 
most senior leader, Mustapha Abdul Jalil, have said the summons or 
arrest warrant was legitimate, and it was not clear what authority the 
defense ministry had to cancel it. In any case, officials now 
universally refer to the general as a “martyr.”

There were reports on Sunday that the rebel government was moving to 
name General Younes’s deputy as his successor, putting another member of 
the Obeidi tribe in that important role.

The clash in the license-plate factory came after Mr. Jalil ordered all 
armed brigades in and around Benghazi, for the first time, to submit to 
the authority of the rebel military and security forces. Asked why the 
rebel security forces had not moved sooner against the so-called fifth 
column, Mustapha el Sagazly, the deputy interior minister, said that 
officials were afraid to alienate the prominent local tribe that the 
group associated itself with. “Since the issue of the tribes is 
sensitive, we did not want to stop them from the early days,” he said. 
He declined to name the tribe for fear of insulting it, noting that 
“most of the sons of the tribe” sided against the group in the factory, 
and added that the rebels had recruited soldiers and mediators from 
among the tribe. Mr. Sagazly said that after the battle, the group in 
the factory turned out to include some fighters from other North African 
countries, and were not all from the tribe they claimed to be associated 

Mr. Sagazly and other officials said the group called itself the Yousef 
Shakur brigade, named after a famous pro-Qaddafi commentator on state 
television who is from Benghazi. Mr. Sagazly and the other officials 
said the group was taking its orders from Mr. Shakur over the 
television, and that Mr. Shakur broadcast minute to minute details of 
the fighting during the battle.

Rebel officials said the group had capitalized on the distraction of 
General Younes’s death to break into Benghazi prisons and free prisoners 
of war. Several freed prisoners were found among the group in the 
factory, the officials said, and almost all were recaptured. None of 
those reports could be confirmed.

Beginning on Friday, rebel officials have been bluntly warning reporters 
that they could face prosecution over what they write, and have singled 
out certain journalists whose reports they called inaccurate and 
divisive, though they did not offer specifics.

Asked why the rebel government was not more open about its investigation 
of the general’s death, a spokesman for the defense minister, Ahmed 
Bani, replied by questioning the motives of journalists. “We don’t know 
if anybody here is a fifth column,” he said of the reporters at a news 
conference. “It is very difficult to determine who is with you and who 
is against you in a time of conflict, because you don’t necessarily have 
to hold a weapon. With a word or a rumor they can cause a lot of deaths.”

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