Misurata // Libyan rebels said yesterday the death of their chief military commander has only strengthened their resolve, as mystery continued to shroud the murder.
Gen Abdel Fattah Younis was killed on Thursday en route from his command post on the front line near Brega to the rebel capital Benghazi.
He was killed only hours after an announcement that he had been detained for questioning by his own forces on suspicion that his family still had ties to Col Muammar Qaddafi. "We have lost a major leader in Libya and it is a big loss to all of the fighters," Misurata's military spokesperson Ibrahim Beatelmal said.
He dismissed fears that the general's death could lead to a split in the rebel forces. "This will not hinder the revolution. The people, especially those in Benghazi, are sad and angered. We will fight even harder and with more determination than before."
The NTC is investigating the death, said Ali Tarhuni, who handles the council's economic affairs.
He said the council received news of his death late on Thursday when the head of a militia behind the crime confessed.
"The head of the militia is imprisoned now," Mr Tarhuni said. He said some of the killers belonged to Jirah Ibn Al Obeidi brigade and had not yet been captured, and the motive for the killing remained unclear.
"We don't know who they work for," he said.
Rebel leaders say they suspect pro-Qaddafi insurgents working from within Benghazi killed Younis, but a Qaddafi regime spokesman pinned the blame squarely on Al Qaeda and argued that the killing exposed the impotence of the NTC in the area of eastern Libya supposedly under its control.
"By this act, Al Qaeda wanted to mark out its presence and its influence in this region," Mussa Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli.
"The other members of the National Transitional Council knew about it but could not react because they are terrified of Al Qaeda."
The NTC and rebel fighters say they have no connections with Al Qaeda and this is Col Qaddafi's propaganda
Younis, formerly Col Gaddafi's interior minister who participated in the 1969 coup that brought him to power, defected to the rebel forces in February. His position as military head had been controversial and rumours had circulated that rebel leaders in Misurata refused to accept orders from him.
The journalist and human-rights activist Hassan Al Amin said such problem were to be expected in a newly forming government.
Mr Al Amin, who has campaigned for Libyan freedom from the Qaddafi regime for more than a decade, said that as leader of the national army, Younis's orders would come to Misurata's forces through the council. In reality, he said, Misurata has its own military council.
"In practical terms I don't think they were taking orders from Younis or the NTC," he said. "The process of amalgamating all fighting brigades is not yet finished."
Mr Al Amin said the majority of fighters are not soldiers but civilians who did not come under his command. The units - made up of doctors, lawyers, students - fighting on the front operate more or less independently, he said, but all are loyal to the interim council.
Among the front line fighters in Misurata yesterday, there appeared to be little concern with the actions of the NTC. In the mind of these men, the only goal is the removal of Col Qaddafi.
Unit leader Mohammed Al Jaholy, speaking from the Misurata front line before Younis's death, said his fighters had no time to worry about politics.
"We are needed on the front line every day," he said. "If we take time to get involved in these things we will lose everything. Now is not the time."
In Misurata's military prison, where 250 of Col Qaddafi's soldiers are being held, reaction was mixed to news of Younis's death.
Wissam Miland, 31, trained with Younis as part of Col Qaddafi's government forces before the revolution. He surrendered to the rebel forces in Misurata two months ago along with five of his men after they were given the order to attack the civilian population within the city.
"Many of us thought he was right to leave because he was from the East," Miland said. "He would surely have been sent to lead the fight against Benghazi; sent to kill his own people if he had remained with Qaddafi."
Hesham Mohamed Embirika, who heads the prison, said: "If he was killed by Qaddafi's men I feel so sad about that, but if he was a traitor and he was killed for this reason then I don't care about him. This will not change the revolution."
Meanwhile Nato reported a successful overnight attack on Libyan state TV transmitters that disabled three satellite transmission dishes. The alliance said the attack was intended to reduce the regime's ability to "intimidate and oppress the people".
* With additional reporting from Agence France-Presse