he commander of Libya's rebel forces, Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes, was assassinated Thursday under murky and suspicious circumstances. Younes, Moammar Gadhafi's former security chief, had defected, but some opposition fighters suspected that he was still feeding intelligence to the regime. Leaders of the rebels' National Transitional Council suggested that Younes had been ambushed by pro-Gadhafi forces, but it appears likely that someone on the rebels' side, not Gadhafi's, was responsible. What does this chilling news mean for the war?
This puts the rebels' legitimacy in question: Younes' assassination is "an ominous and embarrassing development," says Anne Penketh at The Hill. The West rushed into "an ill-prepared NATO intervention," and bestowed the international stamp of legitimacy on the rebels without really knowing who they are. Younes' suspicious death — and alleged role as a double agent — calls into question whether the rebels are, or ever were, Libya's best hope for democracy.
"Intelligence failure in Libya"
The rebels could split into warring factions: Members of Younes' large, influential tribe — the Obeidi — evidently believe the rebel leadership had a hand in his death, says David D. Kirkpatrick in The New York Times. He was traveling from the front lines to Benghazi for questioning about his loyalty when he was gunned down. Unless the rebels' political leader, Mustapha Abdul Jalil, can ease the Obeidis' suspicions, a "tribal feud" could break out, and the rebels could end up fighting each other, instead of Gadhafi.
"Death of rebel leader stirs fears of tribal conflict"
This could help Gadhafi and the rebels: This is a "propaganda coup for Col. Gadhafi," says Daniel Korski, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, as quoted by Reuters, since it reinforces the notion that rebels are "perpetually disorganized and incompetent." But Younes' death might not be as damaging to the rebel cause as some think, as the removal of a divisive military chief might help rebel leaders unite.
"Analysis: Libya rebel killing takes shine off opposition gains"
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