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US Says Few Answers in Slain Libyan Rebel Leader's Death

Libyan rebel forces chief commander Abdel Fattah Younes speaks during a rally in the rebel-held city of Benghazi, July 6, 2011

Libyan rebel forces chief commander Abdel Fattah Younes speaks during a rally in the rebel-held city of Benghazi, July 6, 2011

There are more questions than answers in the killing of a senior member of Libya's opposition Transitional National Council, or TNC. Reports out of eastern Libya include allegations that pro-Gadhafi agents killed the senior opposition figure, while others allege members of the opposition were behind the attack. The U.S. State Department says that while it is too soon to know the details, the Libyan opposition must remain unified.

The State Department's deputy spokesman, Mark Toner, characterized the situation on the ground in the rebel-stronghold Benghazi as both fluid and calm Friday.

One day after the head of the TNC announced that the body's top military commander, Abdel Fattah Younes, and two of his aides were shot dead, Toner told reporters at the State Department that there were few definitive answers.

"The details surrounding the killing of Transitional National Council's Chief of Staff Younes, as well as two other officers, are still unclear. Our envoy in Benghazi and his team are talking to the Transitional National Council, trying to get a better picture of what exactly happened," said Toner.

Younes had been Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's interior minister and one of his closest confidants until earlier this year. Younes' defection to the opposition, not long after the Libyan uprising began in February, was unexpected.

Libyan rebels said they had summoned Younes shortly before his death on suspicion his family still had ties to Gadhafi's inner circle.

The United States joined 30 countries earlier this month in recognizing the TNC as the legitimate governing authority in Libya. Washington continues to call on Gadhafi to step aside.

Toner said it is important for the Libyan opposition to maintain its unity. He noted that Younes' death poses yet another challenge for the fledgling Transitional National Council.

"He is a senior figure, and they've lost both his military expertise and his leadership, and again, it's very unclear who was at fault here. We've seen reports that this was an internal matter," said Toner. "We've reached no conclusions yet. I don't think any conclusions have been reached yet. But in this kind of fluid situation, you know, it's important to keep, if you will, eyes on the prize, which is the democratic transition for the Libyan people."

Toner said he he does not know if the U.S has formally offered to help investigate the three deaths.

The head of the Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, announced the deaths and three days of mourning late Thursday. At that time, he provided few details to journalists about the attack on Younes and his aides.

The funeral for the Libyan rebel commander was held Friday in Benghazi.