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Three journalists killed in NATO raid: Libya
by Staff Writers
Tripoli (AFP) July 30, 2011

Libya said three journalists were killed in a NATO air strike on state television on Saturday and that the murder of the rebels' army chief proved Al-Qaeda was instigating the country's armed revolt.

"Three of our colleagues were murdered and 15 injured while performing their professional duty as Libyan journalists," said Khaled Basilia, director of Al-Jamahiriya television's English-language service.

He branded the strike "an act of international terrorism and in violation of UN Security Council resolutions."

Earlier, NATO said it struck three television transmitters to silence "terror broadcasts" by Moamer Kadhafi's regime.

"NATO conducted a precision air strike that disabled three ground-based Libyan state TV satellite transmission dishes in Tripoli... with the intent of degrading Kadhafis use of satellite television as a means to intimidate the Libyan people and incite acts of violence against them," said NATO.

But Basilia said the channel posed no threat to civilians. "We are not a military target, we are not commanders in the army and we do not pose threat to civilians," he insisted.

"We are performing our job as journalists representing what we wholeheartedly believe is the reality of NATO's aggression and the violence in Libya."

A defiant Kadhafi again vowed to defeat his enemies, in a new audio message broadcast on state television.

Speaking to loyalists the Libyan strongman said he will "never abandon" the battle, and warned his enemies they would be "defeated thanks to the courage of the Libyan people."

Meanwhile the Libyan rebels probed the mysterious killing of their army chief, General Abdel Fatah Yunis, and appointed a temporary replacement for the slain officer.

"The NTC has appointed an investigative committee and we will publish all the facts of this investigation," said Ali Tarhuni, who handles economic affairs for the rebel National Transitional Council.

Yunis was the faithful right-hand man of Kadhafi, participating in the 1969 coup that brought him to power, before defecting to the rebels fighting to oust the strongman since February.

Tarhuni said Yunis's bullet-ridden and partly burned body was found early on Friday on Benghazi's outskirts, but that the NTC had 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," Tarhuni said, adding some of the perpetrators, who he said belonged to Jirah Ibn al-Obeidi brigade, were yet to be incarcerated, and the motive remained unclear.

Tripoli pinned the blame squarely on Al-Qaeda and argued the killing exposed the impotence of the NTC.

"By this act, Al-Qaeda wanted to mark out its presence and its influence in this region" of eastern Libya controlled by the rebels, regime spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said.

"The other members of the National Transitional Council knew about it but could not react because they are terrified of Al-Qaeda," he added.

Suleiman Mahmud al-Obeidi named "the interim chief of staff (of rebel armed forces) until further decisions are made," said NTC spokesman Mahmud Shammam.

And as the murder of Yunis remained cloaked in mystery, the rebels ordered all militia to disband and come under the control of the insurgents' interior ministry.

"The time has come to disband these brigades. Anybody who refuses to take part in this decree will be tried with the full measure of the law," NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil told reporters in Benghazi.

He also denied media reports suggesting that the "February 17" rebel group was behind the assassination.

Yunis's death, and that of two officers with him, left the rebels facing a military leadership crisis on the same day they made fresh gains in the western Nafusa mountain range.

The United States urged the rebels to stand united and stay focused on ousting Kadhafi, and blamed the veteran Libyan leader for creating the conditions that led to the murder.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the rebels should "work both diligently and transparently to ensure the unity of the Libyan opposition."

The assassination of Yunis, Libya's former interior minister, sparked speculation he had been killed as a traitor by one of the two warring camps or as a form of revenge for his past role in crushing the Islamists.

A senior opposition figure in the rebel capital of Benghazi accused Kadhafi of playing a role in the murder in an attempt to press rebels to back off from Brega.

Yunis was killed as he returned to Benghazi from the front line near Brega on the orders of the NTC. "Whoever took part in this crime will be brought to justice no matter who they are," Tarhuni said.

The unity of rebels in the east -- where there are more than 30 brigades -- is crucial for the many Western powers which have recognised the NTC as the sole legitimate authority in Libya.


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