Abdul Fatah Younis helped Muammar Qaddafi take power in the 1969 coup that ousted King Idris. For forty years he was his friend and close adviser. He was Qaddafi's security chief and later the Libyan Interior Minister and a Major General of Libyan Special Forces. He was a big fish. He topped a week of cascading defections from the Qaddafi regime and he brought an army with him. In one stroke, Qaddafi's hopes of quickly crushing the rebellion in the East evaporated.
Abdul Fattah Younis was from Benghazi. The story is that after the barracks were seized by protesters, he was sent back to his hometown by Qaddafi "with instructions to arrange a Tiananmen Square-style massacre of the demonstrators."
Libyan State TV was reporting that Abdul Fattah Younis had been kidnapped by "gangs" in Benghazi. Then he came on free Libyan TV and made a statement. He said that Qaddafi was planning to attack civilians on a wide scale and that he resigned after hearing that 300 unarmed civilians had been killed in Benghazi.
He said then that he had just survived an attempt on his life that Qaddafi intended to use to stoke tribal infighting:
“Gaddafi’s men came to shoot me but the bullets missed me. Those who shot at me were Gaddafi’s men, the bullet missed me but hit one of my relatives. Gaddafi, that dirty man, wanted to say that I was killed by protesters so that my tribe, the Obeidat will stand by him.”Thank you to Sultan Al Qassemi for his translation on Twitter @SultanAlQassemi
“I am not a traitor. I was a close friend. I was surprised by what Gaddafi did. I stood by him for many years. We undertook (the 1969) revolution for the people of Libya, not to turn around & start shooting at them.”
“I wish Gaddafi had said a prayer for the fallen martyrs rather than his long speech.”
“I gave orders to my men in Benghazi not to shoot at protesters, not one of my men shot at protesters.”
“Many tribes pledged to me that they have joined the protesters including the Tuareg (mentioned many other names).”
“From my knowledge of Gaddafi, he won’t leave, he will stay to the end, but he will stay alone. Gaddafi’s speech was very clear to any one who has a brain. He is nervous, he is stubborn. He may commit suicide.”
“To Gaddafi I tell him: Please end your life by praying for the martyrs, ask for God’s forgiveness & the people’s.”
“To Libyan people, you are a brave people, stand courageously, Libya will become a strong country.”
“Gaddafi is a stubborn man but its finished. Everything is collapsing now. I am sad for all what has happened.”
“The people are now in charge. We have crossed the point of no return now.”
John Simpson, World Affairs Editor of the BBC was one of the first journalist to interview him after he came over to the revolution. He remembered:
When I went to interview Gen Younes in Benghazi the next day, he was extremely nervous. He had managed to hang on to his personal bodyguards and they were nervous too.
Gen Younes was an engaging man, well turned out and self-indulgent. He frankly admitted his friendship with Col Gaddafi; they had been friends, he said, ever since they were at officer training college together, before the revolution of 1969.
But he maintained that Col Gaddafi was now seriously mentally unstable and that Libya had become deeply corrupt. For these reasons, as well as for sheer self-preservation, he felt justified in switching sides.
Simpson also had something new to say about how the general came to join the revolution. While this has not been verified by other sources, according to Simpson, Younis volunteered because he got caught. He was on his way to Benghazi to take command,
But the demonstrators struck first and captured him. Gen Younes immediately announced that his plan all along had been to come to Benghazi in order to join the rebels.
The rebel leaders guessed that this was a fiction, but they could see the advantages in going along with it.
Whatever the combination of factors that led Abdul Fattah Younis to come over to the side of the revolution, it was a great victory for the Libyan people when he did. No doubt anyone that could have been regarded as Qaddafi's second-in-command for so long had a dark side. Abdul Fattah Younis has done many bad things in the past but supporting the people's struggle against the dictatorship was not one of them. At the time it was a big blow to Qaddafi and a great boast to the uprising.
His death last week was a great loss which will be overcome. His assassination has many lessons which will strengthen the revolution.
Abdul Fattah Younis with front line troops @ Brega on the day before he was murdered.
HOW HE DIED - a Timeline
There has been a lot of confusion in the media about the circumstances surrounding the general's murder. As best I can make out, the time line is this:
1.) The Transitional National Council issued a warrant for the general's arrested.
2.) The general was arrested at Ajdabiya, near the Brega front line, and brought back to a detention center at Benghazi safely on Wednesday.
3.) The general was assassinated on Thursday by rogue elements among the rebel security forces as he was leaving the detention facility at Benghazi after being released.
It was not as the NY Times said:
Shortly before his death the rebels issued a subpoena for the general to return from the front lines for questioning by a panel of judges, reportedly about charges of treason.
But instead of relying on a legal process, a group of rebel soldiers sent to retrieve him killed him along with two guards, then dumped their bodies outside the city, Mr. Tarhouni told reporters Friday night.
Once again the New York Times has got its facts all screwed up. It's a bit more complicated than that.
From the Associated Press we have this report on the initial arrest:
a rebel special forces officer under Younis' command told The Associated Press that Younis was taken before dawn on Wednesday from his operations room at Zoueitina, just east of the main front with Gahdafi's forces.
Fighters from a rebel faction known as the February 17 Martyr's Brigade came to the operations room and demanded Younis come with them for interrogation, said the officer, Mohammed Agoury, who said he was present at the time.
The general's family told a similar story to the Globe and Mail :
In their first interview with a Western journalist since his death, the general’s family offered new details about the events of July 28 ... They described a well co-ordinated operation to arrest the general from his headquarters in Ajdabiya and escort him 150 kilometres up the highway to Benghazi, blocking side roads and opening checkpoint gates for a huge posse of armed men. They say he arrived safely in Benghazi and his vehicle was not damaged...
The convoy’s final destination was the Garyounis Military Camp at the edge of town, where a rebel judiciary committee apparently wanted to ask the general about recent operations on the front lines.
His family also told more about the arrest warrant, although not specifically about the content:
When the posse of rebels arrived in Ajdabiya to detain the general, they presented an arrest warrant with signatures of the deputy head of the rebel council, Ali Essawi, and a judge named Jomaa al-Jazwi.
General Younis called both men before surrendering himself, the family says, and got assurances that the paperwork was legitimate.
“Jomaa al-Jazwi said, ‘You should present yourself for justice, and I will be responsible for your safety,’” Moatasem Younis said, citing conversations with men who witnessed the scene. “So the general dismissed his guards.”
Sometime that morning he is reported to have done a telephone interview with the website Libya Revolution in which he claimed that the reports of his arrest were false and that he still held the position of chief -of-staff. He was still near Brega at the time of this call. [English]
The 150 kilometres trip was uneventful and Abdel Fattah Younis is reported to have been delivered safely to Benghazi:
The last time the general’s son spoke with him was about 2 a.m.; at that point, he had not yet departed Ajdabiya and seemed relaxed, telling his son he was sitting with his own people and everything would be okay.
The general was not handcuffed, and climbed into the back of a bulletproof sport-utility vehicle along with his trusted aides, Colonel Muhammad Khamis and Major Nasir al-Madhkur. Riding shotgun in the front seat was a rebel named Mustafa Rubaa, a member of the Union of Revolutionary Forces who had been entrusted with the sensitive task of arresting the powerful general.
Fawzi Bukatif, a senior commander who acts as a co-ordinator for the Union of Revolutionary Forces, confirmed that Mr. Rubaa accepted the assignment as an “individual” and not as a representative of the Union. He said that Mr. Rubaa safely delivered the general to Benghazi, as instructed.
Because of his long history with Qaddafi and questions surrounding the circumstances of his conversion to the revolution, some elements in the opposition never really trusted Abdel Fattah Younis, according to John Simpson, and while his rank and reputation earned him the title of chief-of-staff, he was never given a field command. This is fortunate now because his death hasn't much delayed developments on the battlefield.
His death and the warrant for his arrest have also been accompanied by unconfirmed rumors of treason and continuing ties to Qaddafi. For example, the Hadeel al-Shalchi and Rami al-Shaheibi of AP reported:
An officer with the rebels' internal security forces — the official security force of the National Council — told AP that the council ordered Younis' arrest after a letter arose earlier this week connecting the commander to Gadhafi. But he suggested the killing had not been authorized by the council and was instead an act of vengeance by rebels.
He said Younis was brought back to the Benghazi area Wednesday and held at a military compound until Thursday, when he was summoned to the Defense Ministry for questioning.
He then goes on to describe the assassination, which was carried out by two men when they were leaving the detention facility in the morning:
As they left the compound, two men from the security team escorting the detainees opened fire from their car on Younis with automatic weapons, said the officer, who was at the compound and saw the shooting. He said the two men were members of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade.On Saturday, July 30, 2011, Al Jazeera correspondent Tony Birtley reported on a press conference held by Mustafa Abdel Jalil:
"The men's leader was shouting 'Don't do it!' but they shot Younis and his two aides, and took their bodies in their car and drove away," the officer said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the events.
Finally after a gap of about three days we've been getting further details about the killing of Abdul Fatah Younes, and it appears that there was a warrant signed by Mustafa Abdel Jalil's deputy, who ordered the arrest of General Fatah Younes and men were sent down there to get him and they brought him back. Apparently he was questioned and when he was released, according to Jalil, then he was killed by two men. They fled with the bodies in a car. We were told that they were dumped in a valley and their bodies burned, but he stressed that the throats had not been cut, which he was suggesting that this was not the work of Islamists.
We're told that these two fighters who killed him have now disappeared. They're holding their commander, but also, previously the finance minister ... said definitely it was two rebel fighters who were sent down to arrest General Fatah Younes who killed the general. He said that quite clearly.
Now at the press conference today Jalil inferred that this was the work of pro-Gaddafi agents seeking to create divisions within the opposition.
And that is what is known about the assassination based on eyewitness reports. It was done by two men who were part of the security detail.
There has been much speculation in the media about the connection between the assassination and radical Islam or the part played by tribal animosities, but few shreds point in those directions. It should go without saying that any man who has spent 40 years as Qaddafi's sidekick, and his security chief to boot, has a very long list of suspects when he turns up murdered. And number one on that list is Mummar Qaddafi himself. He certainly had the most to gain from it and had long promised revenge against the person he considered a traitor.
There is an old cop saying "never believe in coincidences," and only a few days before his assassination Libyan State TV promised "good news" can be expected to be heard about General Younis within 48 hours.
The Qaddafi people and Libyan State TV have also long been promoting the legend that Younis had gone back to Qaffadi. Enes Senussi speaks of :
the repeated false claims made by Gaddafi TV about Younes siding with Gaddafi. Old footage of Younes present with Gaddafi was shown on more than one occasion to allude to viewers that Younes had gone back to Gaddafi’s side. Vicious rumours were spread by Gaddafi’s 5th column and regime informers about Younes allegedly being overheard speaking to Gaddafi on the phone by saying “yes sir” which he is reported to have only ever said to Gaddafi. Other rumours claimed that he had smuggled arms to Gaddafi’s troops as well as giving deliberate reckless orders resulting in many casualties coming under heavy fire; and the list goes on to this effect.
These stories even continue post-mortem. A few days ago Saif Qaffadi was claiming that he had met with General Younis several times recently in Italy but a check on Italian air space records indicated that no Qaddafi flights had taken place.
It is just possible that Qaddafi's people were behind this assassination from top to bottom. For while I doubt they were in a position to tell the TNC to issue an arrest warrant, they were certainly in the position to fabricate the evidence that would cause them to do so, a letter from Qaddafi for example, and in the undisciplined atmosphere of the current rebel army, they could have seen to it that their agents "volunteered" for the arrest detail.
About 1:13PM on July 28, The TNC held a press conference and announced that Abdul Fatah Younis, Naser Almadkoor & Mahammed Kameais had been assassinated.
The Transnational National Council appointed Suleiman Mahmoud al-Obeidi to replace Younis as new leader of the liberation army and promised an investigation. There were a number of immediate arrests. The Globe and Mail wrote:
Those under investigation include Mustafa Rubaa, a rebel fighter who was entrusted with the responsibility of detaining Gen. Younis and bringing him in front of a panel of judges last week; the second man is Ahmed Bukhattalah, a long-bearded rebel from the coastal city of Darnah.
Neither man has been charged with any crime, and rebel officials emphasized that they are only beginning to unravel a series of plots in Benghazi. Over the last four days, the rebel stronghold has witnessed the high-profile assassination of Mr. Younis, two major jailbreaks, and a seven-hour gun battle between rebel factions on the outskirts of the city.
However many people in the opposition, especially the general's family have been suspicious of the role of the TNC in the general's death and impatient with the progress they have made in cracking the case. The family told Rania El Gamal of Reuters:
"The investigation committee has not yet been formed, there has been no decision about the members of this committee," said Mohammed Hamed Younes, a nephew of the dead general.
His family called on the TNC to reveal the truth behind the killing, which they called a conspiracy that has served Gaddafi.
The pro-Qaddafi forces and their friends in the media have been working every angle to use this story to discredit the rebellion and sow divisions in it's ranks. They have spread many stories and rumors in the hopes of using this tragedy to their advantage.
One of these stories is that at his father's funeral, Ashraf Younis spoke in favor of Gaddafi's rule and even called for a return of Gaddafi's green flag. As Enes Senussi writes:
Here are three examples of the intimate accounts as reported by left, right and alternative news sources:
At Younis's funeral, his son Ashraf called for Gaddafi's return to bring stability back to Libya. "We want the green flag back," he shouted to the crowd, referring to Gaddafi's national banner. It was a risky display of emotion in a region so supportive of the rebels.
Sobbing uncontrollably as his father's body was lowered into the ground, Ashraf Younes began to shout repeatedly: "We want Muammar to come back! We want the green flag (of the Gaddafi regime) back!"
At the funeral Younes had a 300 gun salute and his son broke down crying to the crowd, “We want Muammar Gaddafi to come back! We want the green flag back!”
As it happens the BBC reported the funeral procession in video and no such events were either caught on camera or noted in the accompanying text.
Aside from this alleged event not appearing on the BBC’s footage, or on any other footage recorded to that matter, endless accounts by eye witnesses present at the funeral have unreservedly denied the occurrence of any such display not just by Younes’ son but by any funeral goers.
The Globe and Mail talked to the family and came away with this version:
Despite their anger, the family has not turned against the rebel movement.
Mohamed Hamid stood in front of thousands of mourners who thronged to the main square in Benghazi on Friday, and his speech emphasized that the family still supports the leadership of Mr. Jalil.
Family members say they felt troubled by incorrect media reports that quoted one of the general’s sons, Ashraf, saying at the funeral that he “wants the green flag back,” a reference to Col. Gadhafi’s flag that was interpreted as nostalgia for the old regime. They now agree that Ashraf did not speak those words, remains loyal to the rebels, and had perhaps been misunderstood amid the shouts and clatter of gunfire at the graveyard.
The Militias and the Fire Fight in Benghazi...
One of the things that gave credence the the thesis that the wheels were coming off the revolution's cart in the aftermath of the assassination of Abdul Fattah Younis was a five hour fire fight that took place on Sunday morning, July 31 in Benghazi. At first it was reported that differences within the rebel ranks had broken out into open warfare and that is the way much of the media played it. We now know that a pro-Qaddafi fifth column, operating as as tribal based militia had been discovered and destroyed. The Globe and Mail reported:
Another militia, the so-called Nida Libya Brigade, apparently spent months recruiting, training and fortifying an old licence-plate factory in an industrial zone as its headquarters. When other rebels stormed the headquarters in the early hours on Sunday, they claimed to find an enclave of pro-regime sentiment: green flags, portraits of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, target lists of rebel leaders to be killed, and large amounts of explosives.
The fight to take over the Nida headquarters killed eight and injured 20, and among those who surrendered were a handful of prisoners who had escaped during a pair of jailbreaks in Benghazi on Thursday evening. Rebels now suspect that the Nida militia took advantage of the disarray after Gen. Younis’s assassination to break out dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of captives from their jails
63 Qaddafi supporters were arrested in the raid. A Revolutionary Youth Movement member who lives in Benghazi gave more details:
On the day before the raid, NTC security forces went to the warehouse. They gave the men a warning [On July 31, NTC President Moustapha Abdeljalil ordered all militias present in Benghazi to give up their arms and join the rebels]. They asked these men to join Benghazi’s army or fight on the front lines in western Libya. It was their last chance to join the rebellion, but they refused. Sunday morning, shortly after midnight, the rebels launched an attack on the warehouse. People who live nearby told me that the attack was very violent, and that they were told not to leave their homes. I heard that some neighbours helped the security forces arrest the loyalists, who, in attempts to hide, climbed over garden walls.
RYM video shows rebels insulting prisoners taken during the raid.
The Globe and Mail goes on to describe the loose organization of the fighting organizations developed by the uprising:
At the beginning of the war, rebel groups were either loosely organized youth volunteers, or uniformed ex-military units that had turned against the regime. During months of battle, the youth groups coalesced into bigger units, sometimes called battalions or brigades. They gave themselves colourful names: the Abu Salim Brigade was named after the notorious jail in Tripoli, the Omar Mukhtar Brigade took the name of a national hero who fought colonialism.
On paper, the various militias fell under the umbrella of the Union of Revolutionary Forces, which answered to the rebels’ minister for defence. But the loose supervision of the militias came under harsh scrutiny in the days after Gen. Younis’s assassination; one of the suspects, Mr. Bukhattalah, is described by rebel officials as belonging to the Obeida Ibn al-Jarrah Brigade, alleged to have ties with radical Islamism.
But this militia and tribal based organization of the liberation army has exposed a serious weakness in the aftermath of the death of Abdul Fattah Younis:
When asked why dangerous militias such as the Nida group could have been allowed to muster their forces in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Mustafa El-Sagezly, the rebels’ deputy minister of the interior, blamed the tribal structure of Libyan society. He said the Nida militia claimed to represent a powerful tribe, although he declined to name the specific tribe involved.
“Since the issue of the tribes is sensitive, we did not want to stop them,” he said.
So the Qaddafi forces were able to use these tribal divisions and tribal sensibilities to operate a secret cell carrying out sabotage and murder in the liberated area.
Even when other rebels surrounded the Nida headquarters in the middle of the night, they hesitated before attacking. They called on elders of Werfalla, the biggest tribe in Libya, who spent three hours negotiating with their fellow tribesmen inside the building. Only when those talks broke down, witnesses say, did the killing start.
In an effort to quell any hard feelings after the raid, a delegation of Werfalla tribal elders held a news conference wearing traditional robes.
“We know some Werfalla were involved,” said Sheikh Nasr Gemali, leader of the tribe for eastern Libya. “But we want stability. Our hands will not be stained with the blood of the martyrs.”
Just as maintaining unity with the family is important to the revolution, maintaining the unity of the tribes is paramount. The opposition knows that and so they deal very delicately with tribal issues and the Qaddafi forces know that to, so at every turn they try to exacerbated tribal issues, stir up differences between the tribes and maintain a Libya based on tribal differences because that is a Libya he can rule.
On Saturday, August 6 TNC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil claimed that Qaddafi was behind the assassination of AF. "Soon the investigation will reveal the offender and the details of the incident." He also said:
I would like to send a message to all Libyans in the liberated areas: we need to focus all our resources on the battle for freedom.
We need to unite now for a bigger cause.
The chaos has given a strong push to those within the rebel movement who have been trying to consolidate their militias into a more formal structure.
“All those groups will disappear, and they will become one unit,” said Brigadier-General Ahmed Qutrani, a senior rebel commander in Benghazi. “None of the commanders can disagree. Anybody who dares will be crushed.”
I hope that the unification of the revolutionary army can be achieved in the spirit of resolving differences among friends and without crushing anyone.
But it is essential to the success of the revolution and the future of Libya that the various fighting organizations that have been organically developed and have served the uprising so far, be forged into a unified liberation army with a single command structure under the authority of the Transitional National Council.
It must be an army for all of Libya. It's organization along ethnic or tribal lines should not be encouraged and it must be a disciplined army in which everybody cooperates in carrying out the task of overthrowing the Qaddafi regime because that is the immediate task at hand.
Many a brave solider dies in a war. That is its tragic reality. Many freedom fighters have given their lives in the struggle to overthrow Qaddafi, and the death of this general can not stop it.
But the death of this general has also taught some very valuable lessons. If they are learned by the resistance this past week will be seen as one in which the revolution lost a leader but gained new unity and strength and moved forward.
UPDATE Mon Aug 08, 2011 at 7:19 PM PT: The Washington Post just published this,
Libya rebels fire cabinet after general’s killing
BENGHAZI, Libya — The rebel government here has dismissed its entire cabinet in the wake of the unsolved killing of a powerful military leader, who was slain almost two weeks ago after he was ordered to appear before a board of inquiry about his handling of the war effort.
As the investigation into the mysterious assassination of Abdel Fattah Younis proceeds, the leaders of the revolution in the Transitional National Council, the rebels’ governing body, sacked its 15-member cabinet Monday.
The cabinet includes the ministers of oil, finance, defense and foreign relations — all posts vital to the running of the state.
Rebel officials say that the Transitional National Council has asked the outgoing head of the cabinet, Mahmoud Jibril, to form a new board of ministers as he departs.