How Reports of a Libyan Rebel General's Death Unfolded
A recap of the day's confusing and wide-ranging reports on Abdel Fattah Younis
Earlier today, Reuters reported that Libyan rebel general Abdel Fattah Younis had been pulled from the front line of the conflict. Now it's been confirmed that Younis has been shot dead, possibly by his own forces. The day's reporting was wide-ranging and confusing, so this is a look back at how the story developed over the day.
Early warning: The saga of Younis's death reports actually goes back to Sunday, when the Middle Eastern news portal Al Bawaba reported the general had been killed. The initial report put the words "mysterious circumstances" in quotation marks, just as the Al Jazeera report of his death today would use quotes to distance itself somewhat from the story. On Monday, Al Bawaba ran a follow-up story, reporting that Younis had dismissed the death report and quoting him as pledging an end to the revolution before Ramadan.
Pulled from the line: Today's news started with a report at 1:53 p.m. EDT, that Younis had left the active fighting and was at his home in Benghazi. But it was unclear whether he had been pulled by his own people on suspicion of collaborating with Gaddafi loyalists, or if he had returned from the line because he was "unhappy with the situation on the ground." The initial Reuters report notes both possibilities.
Under arrest: Two hours after the initial Reuters report, Al Jazeera had the news that Younis had been arrested for smuggling arms to Gaddafi loyalists. The general, who had served under Gaddafi for 40 years, defected in February. Some of the rebel fighters loyal to him reportedly returned with him to Benghazi after his arrest. Others questioned his allegiances. Most of the Al Jazeera story consisted of an update on the fighting, but there was this telling quote from correspondent Tony Birtley, who quoted unconfirmed reports:
He spent 40 years as one of Gaddafi's right hand men as minister of defence and in charge of the special forces. So when he came over five months ago to the opposition cause it was quite a coup. But some people have had their doubts about… his loyalties...
Some of his men have come back from the front line demanding his release. This is an ugly situation in the making.
Death confirmed: At 8:47 p.m., local time, Al Jazeera reported that Younis had been shot dead. But the story kept the news at arm's length, placing the word "killed" in quotes in the headline, and giving few details. The report cited sources that referred to "assailants" killing Younis.
The head of the Libyan rebels' military campaign against Muammar Gaddafi has been shot dead by assailants, the top rebel leader has said.
Libyan rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said on on Thursday that Abdel Fattah Younes was killed by assailants after he had been summoned before a judicial committee that was looking into the military operations.
The head of the armed cell that killed Younes has been arrested, Jalil said, without giving any further details.
Reuters quoted Jalil, who spoke at a press conference: "We received news today that ... Younes and two of his bodyguards were shot at after he was called in to appear before a judicial committee investigating military issues."
Reporters' alternate versions: On his Twitter feed, Al Jazeera reporter Ali Hashem started contradicting the story. "Abdulfatah Younes is killed along with other officers says Mustafa Abduljaleel," he wrote at first. Then, "Abdulfatah Younes was summoned before his death to face a committee but he never appeared infron of it." After that, "Loyalists to late gen younes told me that abduljaleel's version of the death isn't accurate." And finally, "Loyalists told me gen younes was executed by a group of rebels while facing the committee." Journalist Brian Conley, who works for Alive In Libya, tweeted reports of gunfire at the Tibesti hotel in Benghazi where Jalil was holding a press conference. He then wrote, "apparently a "major general" of a "rival tribe" within the TNC began an argument at tibesti and this resulted in the shooting." NPR's Amy Walters tweeted that "Early on, General Younis' command of the opposition military was debated."
The latest: Al Jazeera is now reporting that Younis's death has disrupted the Libyan opposition. "Though the opposition National Transitional Council quickly made Younes chief of staff of the ragtag rebel armed forces, a power struggle ensued between Younes and longtime exile Khalifa Hifter, a former general in Muammar Gaddafi’s army," the network reported. "For much of March and April, control of the rebel army seemed to pass back and forth from Younes to Hifter. Sometimes it seemed in neither was in control." Meanwhile, reports of gunfire in Benghazi related to the death continue to stream in via Twitter.