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Sunday, July 31, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Assassination of Libyan rebel chief rattles NATO

LONDON — NATO appears stunned by the killing of Libya's rebel commander.


NATO officials said the circumstances of the killing of Gen. Abdul Fatah Yunis remain unclear. Yunis was killed on July 28 by other rebels in what appeared to mark a power struggle among factions opposed to the regime of Libyan Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

"Exactly what happened remains unclear," British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said. "The killing will be thoroughly investigated."

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Officials, however, agreed that the assassination of Yunis left NATO allies of the Libyan rebels shaken. They said the killing eroded confidence in the Libyan rebel movement by the Western alliance, which has been fighting the Gadhafi regime since March.

"We agreed that it is important that those responsible are held to account through proper judicial processes," Burt, responsible for Britain's policy in the Middle East, said.

So far, the Libyan rebels have not provided a clear account of Yunis' death. Their first accounts said Yunis, a former interior minister for Gadhafi, was arrested for alleged ties to the Tripoli regime. Later, the rebels said he was killed by two men and a militia commander was arrested.

"It was not him [militia leader]," rebel minister Ali Tarhouni said. "His lieutenants did it."

Yunis was regarded as the most professional officer in the rebel command. Under Gadhafi, whom he joined in 1969, Yunis was responsible for the Lightning Brigade, a commando unit regarded as the most feared in the regime.

Officials acknowledged that Yunis never won the trust of most of the rebel movement. But they added that the movement has been divided by both tribes as well as those suspected of maintaining links to the Tripoli regime.

"What's important is that they work both diligently and transparently to ensure the unity of the Libyan opposition," U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

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