Sunday, May 1, 2011
The son killed in the airstrike was Saif Al-Arab, and not Saif Al-Islam who was more visible.
THE reported killing of the youngest son and three grandchildren of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi in an air strike in Tripoli has fuelled a debate over the legitimacy of the NATO-led campaign.
The Libyan regime claimed the NATO missiles narrowly missed Colonel Gaddafi on Saturday night but killed four family members who had no ties to the government or military.
There was no independent confirmation of the deaths but the claims will complicate Western diplomacy and attempts to pressure Syria to stop its crackdown on protesters.
China, Russia and Turkey have already complained that NATO has exceeded its UN mandate to protect civilians. The West has been accused of backing the rebels to overthrow the regime.
Libyan officials said Colonel Gaddafi and his wife were at the Tripoli home of their son, Saif al-Arab, 29, during the attack, but were unharmed.
NATO confirmed it had staged air strikes in Tripoli, including on what it described as a command building in the Bab al-Aziziya neighbourhood, but declined to say if any Gaddafi family members were killed.
''All NATO's targets are military in nature,'' said Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, commander of mission to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.
He said all targets had been linked to the regime's attacks on the civilian population. But regime spokesman Moussa Ibrahim condemned the strike as an attempt to assassinate the colonel, which he said was not permitted under international law or morally justifiable.
He said the family compound was in the Garghour neighbourhood. Reporters were taken to a house in an upmarket neighbourhood where one building was in ruins, with an unexploded missile in the rubble.
The regime has been notorious for staging journalist trips to sites it claims were struck by NATO, only for them to turn out to be concocted.
Another of Colonel Gaddafi's sons was reported killed earlier in the conflict but this was later proved to be incorrect.
Western officials have been divided over whether Colonel Gaddafi is a legitimate target under the UN resolution. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said last week that NATO was ''not targeting Gaddafi specifically'' but that his command centres were legitimate targets.
But US officials rejected an assertion last month by British Defence Secretary Liam Fox that assassinating Colonel Gaddafi was ''potentially a possibility''.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd deflected the Libyan claim that Colonel Gaddafi had been targeted, a spokeswoman stating Australia regretted the loss of innocent civilians.
Saif al-Arab previously lived in Germany and had been suspected of arms smuggling. He was considered the least problematic of the Gaddafi family, with no ties to the government or military.
In a confidential March 2009 cable, released by WikiLeaks, US diplomats in Tripoli described him as a ''ne'er-do-well''.
Reports of his death sparked excitement among rebels in Benghazi who began an uprising against the regime more than two months ago. But there may have been confusion that Colonel Gaddafi's other son, Seif al-Islam, had been killed.
Earlier on Saturday, Colonel Gaddafi appeared both calm and defiant in a television speech, describing NATO's intervention as a ''massacre''.
Meanwhile, Britain is investigating reports that its embassy in Tripoli has been destroyed.
Posted by Cole at 7:36 AM