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From left to right: Mohammed Younis, nephew of the late General Younis, Moatasem Younis, son of General Younis, and Abdel Razag, cousin of Moatasem Younis. The family is seeking in inquiry into the death of General Younis. (Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail/Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail)
From left to right: Mohammed Younis, nephew of the late General Younis, Moatasem Younis, son of General Younis, and Abdel Razag, cousin of Moatasem Younis. The family is seeking in inquiry into the death of General Younis. (Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail/Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail)

General's family drives wedge of suspicion into Libya's rebellion Add to ...

On the night of his assassination, General Abdel Fatah Younis was last seen in the custody of heavily armed rebels, sitting in the back seat of an armoured sport-utility vehicle that rushed him inside a military camp on the outskirts of Benghazi, his family says.

In their first interview with a Western journalist since his death, the general's family offered new details about the events of July 28 that undermined the unity of Libya's rebellion. 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, contradicting official claims that he was ambushed.

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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. If anybody saw him alive after the questioning, nobody has informed his family.

"We have a witness who saw him go into the camp," said Moatasem Younis, the general's son. "Nobody saw him leave."

The family's description of his final hours contradicts official statements from the rebel council, whose leaders have described Gen. Younis being attacked during a moment of weak security - perhaps by agents of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, or Islamist extremists - before, or after, his hours in custody.

Rebel spokesmen declined to comment on Tuesday.

The possibility that the general died inside the walls of the military camp has driven a wedge of suspicion between the rebel council and the militia that Gen. Younis assembled from former Special Forces units and his fellow Obeidat tribesmen, one of the most powerful factions on the eastern front. His men have vowed to continue the fight against Col. Gadhafi, but their ability to co-operate with other rebels on the battlefield remains unclear.

The breakdown of unity comes at a sensitive moment for the rebels, just as they gain international recognition, including Canada's, and access to millions in loans and unfrozen assets.

The rebel leadership announced that an investigative committee will look into the assassination. The general's family seems to have little faith in the process, however, and some of them are calling for a international role in the investigation, perhaps by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Three of the general's relatives spoke to The Globe and Mail at their sprawling family compound in Benghazi, in the same room where they first heard of his death. They had been watching a satellite news channel on the flat-screen television in their comfortable sitting room on the evening of July 28 when the top rebel leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, told a news conference about the killing. No representatives from the rebel council informed them beforehand, they said, and none visited to offer condolences during the traditional three days of mourning.

"Anyway, we would not have accepted their condolences," said Mohamed Hamid Younis, the general's nephew. "We want the whole truth, and retaliation. Those responsible - the schemers, the masterminds - should be punished."

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.

But they say that key rebel leaders have been disingenuous in public statements that distanced themselves from the events of that night.

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."

Neither Mr. al-Jazwi nor Mr. Essawi could be reached for comment.

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. Like several other rebel leaders, Mr. Bukatif claimed that he personally knew nothing about the operation until later.

But the general's family said his men spoke directly with Mr. Bukatif when the posse arrived in Ajdabiya, and he advised them to give up Gen. Younis for questioning. The relatives had a similar story about Jalal al-Dogheily, the rebel defence minister, who they said encouraged the general to go peacefully.

The reason why the general was recalled from the front lines remains unclear; his relatives said they do not want to discuss the contents of the arrest warrant, adding that they have not seen the document themselves.

His family also declined to speak about who discovered his body, shot and burned, alongside the corpses of his two aides, dumped in a grassy field not far from his home. They are still waiting for a forensic report.

While they have not reached any conclusions about who killed Gen. Younis, his family members say they remain deeply mistrustful of their supposed allies.

"It's not only Gadhafi who benefits from his death," Moatasem Younis said. "It's others who want to capture the revolution."

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