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Qaddafi's regime paints Libya air strikes as assassination attempt

But some eyewitnesses raised doubt about whether a purported strike last night in Qaddafi’s compound ­had in fact been the precise target.

By Staff writer / March 21, 2011

Loyalists of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi prepare graves for 24 Libyan servicemen on March 20 in Tripoli, Libya. The bodies did not arrive before the end of the day -- and few family members were present -- but they are part of 64 Libyans claimed by the government to have been killed in the first airstrikes March 19 & 20 by a UN-sanctioned military action to prevent Qaddafi's forces from defeating anti-regime rebels.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images

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Tripoli, Libya

Libyan officials are seeking to change the airstrike narrative of “protecting” Libyan civilians to one of US and European aircraft deliberately targeting Col. Muammar Qaddafi for regime change, after a cruise missile struck the leader’s compound in central Tripoli.

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Late Sunday a plume of smoke rose over Colonel Qaddafi’s compound. Coalition sources said the target was a military command center; Qaddafi supporters said the West's aim was assassination.

“It is extremely close to the leader’s tent, and a house that was bombed by the Americans in 1986,” said government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim at the site, according to Reuters. "They said that they will not attack this place because there are civilians here, and they said they do not have intention to kill the leader, Qaddafi."

Allied sources said that they struck a military control center at the site. They added that Qaddafi himself was not a specific target, but rather his forces, which had pummeled rebels for the past week in an attempt to regain rebel-held territory in the east – including the key oil towns of Ras Lanuf and Brega.

After Qaddafi's forces captured Ajdabiya, the last major city on the road to the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi, the United Nations Security Council passed a strong resolution authorizing "all necessary means" to protect civilians from Qaddafi's advances.

“We judge these strikes to have been very effective in significantly degrading the regime’s air defense capability,” US Navy Vice Adm. William Gortney said in Washington. “We believe his forces are under significant stress and suffering from both isolation and a good deal of confusion.”

Indeed, in Tripoli, the red tracer rounds of antiaircraft fire arced several times through the night sky late Sunday and early Monday, though no sound of aircraft could be heard. At one mobile gun emplacement a few hundred yards from a luxury hotel, gunners fired volley after volley even as they kept rotating their gun, sending a spray of bullets toward the sky with no apparent targets.

Doubt about compound strike

Journalists were taken after midnight to a portion of the Qaddafi compound that Libyan officials said had been hit. Several said they were convinced the strike had occurred there; one had visited the building intact one week ago.

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