Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Libyan sources affiliated with the family of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi said that the entire family was present in three adjacent buildings at the time of the NATO raid on Saturday night, which resulted in the death of Saif al-Arab, Muammar Gaddafi’s youngest son, and three grandchildren.
In a telephone interview with “Asharq al-Awsat” conducted from Bab al-Azizia, the location of the Gaddafi residence, the sources said that after the bombing there was chaos for a while before the death of Saif al-Arab was confirmed.
The sources said: “the leader is proud of his son’s martyrdom…Saif al-Arab became a martyr defending his country and his family, unlike those who were killed whilst fighting their own people with the assistance of enemies”. On the subject of Gaddafi, they noted “every day there is new evidence of his heroism. He is on the front line and offers his own sons as martyrs in defense of Libya”.
The sources indicated that Colonel Gaddafi and his wife were in the building next to where Saif al-Arab was located, with some members of his family, saying: “this confirms what the leader has said from the beginning; that he would not leave Libya alive and would die on its territory”. They added “we do not yet know the identity of the grandchildren who were killed…they may be the sons of Aisha Gaddafi…we do not know yet”.
With regards to opposition doubts in Benghazi about the news of Saif al-Arab’s death, describing it as Gaddafi’s latest manoeuvre, the sources said: “this is despicable…and arrangements for the funeral of Saif al-Arab are yet to be concluded”.
The sources added that life in the capital Tripoli was proceeding as normal, despite the NATO raids. They pointed out that following the death of Saif al-Arab, there were rallies in support of the leader in Green Square, central Tripoli, with supporters carrying the green Libyan flag, raising pictures of Gaddafi, and chanting slogans in support of the Colonel.
The sources declined to answer a question about whether the death of Saif al-Arab would prompt Gaddafi to intensify his attacks against the rebels to avenge the killing of his son, or if he would reject the cease fire which he had previously declared his readiness to accept. The sources said: “The leader is now mourning the death of his son, and it is not possible to know what his next step will be at the moment”.
The raid that was carried out on Saturday and killed Saif al Arab was the second attack directly targeting Colonel Gaddafi. Previously, rockets landed close to a television building where Gaddafi was delivering a speech, during which he stated that he would never step down [from his position] and expressed that he would accept a ceasefire.
During the early hours of Sunday, the spokesperson for the Libyan government, Moussa Ibrahim, announced that Saif al-Arab al Gaddafi, the youngest son of the Libyan leader, had been killed in an assault by NATO forces on the Libyan capital. Moussa Ibrahim indicated that three of Gaddafi’s grandchildren had also been killed in the bombing, but did not reveal their identities and added that Gaddafi and his wife were also in the building that was targeted, but escaped unharmed. However, in its own statement, NATO denied that it was targeting Gaddafi’s family, stating that the sole aim of its operation is to end violence against civilians. The statement further added that NATO continued its strikes against military installations affiliated to the Gaddafi regime in Tripoli throughout the night, including an assault on a known command and control building in the Bab al-Aziziya neighbourhood on Saturday evening.
Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO’s “Operation Unified Protector”, said in a statement, “I am aware of unconfirmed media reports that some of Gaddafi’s family members may have been killed.” Bouchard highlighted that “all NATO’s targets are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the Gaddafi regime’s systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas. We do not target individuals.” Bouchard indicated that “the strike was part of NATO’s coherent strategy to disrupt and destroy the command and control of those forces which have been attacking civilians,” and that the operations would continue until the threat to the civilian population of Libya is removed, all forces loyal to Gaddafi including snipers, mercenaries and paramilitary forces return to their barracks, and there is no longer any obstacle to getting humanitarian aid to the people who need it.
Whilst pro-Gaddafi marches took place in Green Square, Tripoli, demonstrations of celebration were held in Benghazi, East Libya, which is considered a rebel stronghold, where shots were fired in the air and rockets were launched in celebration of the death of Gaddafi’s son.
Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani, military spokesman of the Libyan opposition Transitional National Council said, “They are so happy that Gaddafi lost his son in an air strike that they are shooting in celebration.”
For his part, Abdul Hafeez Ghoga, a spokesperson for the Libyan Transitional National Council in Benghazi said, “We don’t believe this is true…it is all fabrications by the regime in a desperate attempt to get sympathy…this regime is always lying.”
Yaseen al Samalusi, Secretary General of the Union of Libyan Revolutionaries in Egypt believes that what the official Libyan media is dealing with, regarding the death of Saif al-Arab, “is nothing but a show, and the star is Muammar Gaddafi.” Al Samalusi told Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaddafi wants to win over “the hearts and feelings of the Libyan people, portraying an image of an oppressed ruler, until there is division among the revolutionaries.”
Al Samalusi added that Gaddafi kept Saif al Arab – who studied at the technical University of Munich in Germany from 2006 – away from political and military life within the country, as he did not occupy any official post in Libya, and did not head any military battalion unlike the rest of his brothers. Al Samalusi went on to say that “this show has been acted out before when the Americans attacked Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986, and it was announced at the time that America had killed ‘Hanna,’ Gaddafi’s adopted daughter.” He confirmed that the opposition has information to the effect that Gaddafi’s adopted daughter is still alive today.
Al Samalusi stated that Gaddafi “could not cause division among the Libyan revolutionaries with these foolish tricks, the revolutionaries inside and outside of Libya have understood his message.”
Washington also commented on the announcement made by the Libyan government, regarding the killing of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s son and three of his grandchildren following the NATO air strike. A senior US official within the Obama administration said, “We are fully aware of the reports but we cannot confirm who, if anyone, died.” The US official told CNN that members of Gaddafi’s inner circle have been contacting members of Obama’s administration, saying “someone important in the regime had been killed but they did not specify who had died, only to stress that it wasn’t Muammar Gaddafi himself.”