Libyan Pilots Defect Midair

The pilots parachuted out of their plane instead of attacking opposition-controlled Benghazi

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Two Libyan air force pilots parachuted from their fighter jet on Wednesday, letting the plane crash into an uninhabited area, in defiance of orders to attack Benghazi, according to the Libyan newspaper Quryna. CNN is reporting that the pilots were on a mission to bomb oil fields southwest of Libya's second city. Benghazi and most of eastern Libya are now controlled by groups that oppose Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

There are two story lines embedded in this latest development:

Prominent Defections: Qaddafi has faced a string of military and government defections over the last several days, though the toll these have taken on the embattled leader is unclear. On Monday, the pilots of two Libyan fighter jets decided to land in Malta after they were ordered to attack protesters in Benghazi, and Benghazi itself only fell to opposition leaders when an army unit switched sides and helped locals defeat Qaddafi's security forces. CNN also reports that Abdul Fattah Younis al Abidi, the country's interior minister, resigned after learning of civilian deaths in Benghazi. But Wired's Noah Shachtman notes that even with all these defections, Qaddafi "still has enough cronies and mercenaries to continue the attacks. Eyewitnesses in Tripoli tell the Guardian that Navy warships are bombarding the city. Guns-for-hire are roaming the streets at night."

Transformation of Quryna: Foreign journalists aren't allowed into Libya and the Libyan government has disrupted Internet and phone communications, making it difficult to obtain information about the revolt. But Reuters reports that Benghazi-based Quryna, which reported the news about the two pilots who defected, has become Libya's "most reliable media outlet." The newspaper had ties with Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, but appears to have undergone a transformation ever since Qaddafi lost control of the city. As CNN explains, "Quryna itself is a sign of the changes sweeping through Libya. When protests began last week, it carried regime propaganda. But it later reported on the protests and casualty figures."

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