Libya's rebels report death of key Qaddafi son

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's son Khamis, the leader of one of the country's most elite fighting units, was reportedly killed in a NATO airstrike in Zlitan overnight.

By , Staff writer

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According to Libya's rebels, Muammar Qaddafi's son Khamis was killed in an overnight NATO raid on the western town of Zlitan.

His death, if true, is a much bigger blow to the Qaddafi regime than that of his brother, Saif al-Arab, who was killed earlier in the war in another NATO airstrike. Saif al-Arab held no significant leadership role, unlike Khamis, the leader of the Khamis Brigade – one of the country's most elite fighting units and most feared elements of Qaddafi's regime.

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The rebels say that spies among Qaddafi's forces told them about Khamis's death and that it was confirmed in radio dispatches from Qaddafi's troops that they overheard. More than 30 other people were killed in the strike on a command center for Libyan government troops, Agence France-Presse reports.

Khamis's unit was one of several fighting from the front-line town of Zlitan, which lies between rebel-held Misurata and Qaddafi-held Tripoli, Reuters reports.

NATO has confirmed the strike in Zlitan, but has not yet confirmed Khamis's death, which has been rumored before but then turned out to be false.

Rebels have been fighting this week to take Zlitan and fighters said earlier this week they were making progress, but Qaddafi's troops say they are firmly in control of the town, AFP reports. Taking Zlitan would open up a direct route from rebel-held Misurata to Tripoli, which remains Qaddafi's stronghold, Reuters reports. The two sides have been largely locked in a stalemate around the town, which lies about 90 miles southeast of Tripoli.

The government brought foreign journalists to the town on Thursday before the airstrikes to show that it was in Qaddafi's hands. AFP reports that regime forces held the town, but that "intensive artillery fire was heard in the distance." Residents told AFP that the front line is less than 10 miles from the town center and a rebel official said that their troops control three of Zlitan's eastern neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Qaddafi's oldest son, Saif al-Islam, told the New York Times Thursday that the regime had formed an alliance with some of the country's Islamists – a group that the regime previously accused of fomenting the unrest.

The interview revealed a bizarre about-face. Formerly secular Saif fingered prayer beads during the interview and said that Libya could emerge from the war as an Islamic state.

The liberals will escape or be killed,” he said. “We will do it together. Libya will look like Saudi Arabia, like Iran. So what?”

His statements may just be another attempt by Qaddafi's regime to make the case that the war could make possible a "radical Islamist takeover," the Times reports.

In a further taunt to the West, he suggested that the Qaddafis would even help the Islamists stamp out the liberals.

“You want us to make a compromise. O.K. You want us to share the pot. O.K., But with who?” he said in imagined dialogue with the Western powers. The Islamists, he said, answering his own questions, “are the real force on the ground.”

The Islamist leader who Saif said was his main counterpart, Ali Sallabi, said the two had talked but said that his followers still backed the rebels and their plans for a pluralistic democracy. The Guardian reports that the secular rebels have so far had no troubles with the Islamists, with whom they share the goal of ousting Qaddafi.

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