Case of slain Libyan rebel commander could open old wounds

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Eastern Libyan authorities resumed an investigation into the unexplained killing of a top rebel commander in the 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, a case that could reopen old wounds.

The unsolved killing of Abdel Fattah Younes by suspected fellow fighters in 2011 caused deep rifts in the rebel camp of the type that have marked the turmoil and violence gripping Libya ever since.

The investigation risks stirring new tensions between eastern Libya, controlled by the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, and a UN-backed administration in Tripoli.

Haftar ordered the eastern military prosecutor to “immediately and urgently reopen the investigation” of the killing of Younes and two others, according to a decree posted on Monday.

A previous investigation in 2011 named as prime suspect Ali Essawi, deputy prime minister during the uprising at a rebel transitional authority which took over power from Gaddafi.

A court later dropped the case against Essawi and other suspects. Essawi resurfaced when Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez appointed him as economy minister this month.

His appointment sparked angry reactions from Younes’s Obeidat tribe and a second eastern-based tribe, who warned in comments published on local media the move was provocative.

Both tribes are among the most powerful in the east and allied to Haftar, who conquered most of eastern Libya.

The United Nations is trying to mediate between east and west in a bid to overcome divisions and prepare the North African country for elections.

France was pushing for the vote in December but recent fighting between rival groups in Tripoli and a lack of a constitutional basis dimmed the prospect.

Younes was for years part of Gaddafi’s inner circle.

He defected at the start of the uprising in February 2011 and became military chief of the rebellion, a move opposed by other rebels who suffered under the old regime.

His death caused deep rifts in the rebellion, exposing tensions between Islamists – who Gaddafi suppressed during his 42-year dictatorship – and secularists and former army figures, with various factions accusing each other.

The circumstances of his death remain murky, but it is known he was killed in July 2011 after rebel leaders summoned him to Benghazi, the cradle of the uprising.