BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - A Libyan court on Wednesday ordered Mustafa Abdel Jalil, former political leader of rebels who toppled Muammar Gaddafi last year, to be questioned by military prosecutors over the killing of the insurgents’ top field commander.
Abdel Fattah Younes, Gaddafi’s interior minister before he switched to the rebel cause soon after the start of the revolt, was killed by gunmen on his own side in July 2011. His death betrayed ideological splits in the rebel movement and was seen as the work of a faction that mistrusted any ex-Gaddafi loyalist holding a commanding position in the insurgency.
Eleven men, including a former deputy premier in the National Transition Council, the political wing of the rebellion, have been charged in connection with Younes’s murder but only one has been arrested.
“The court demands the referral of Mustafa Abdel Jalil, former head of the NTC, to military prosecution for investigation in the case of Abdel Fattah Younes,” Judge Abdullah al-Saidi said at a hearing for the accused.
Jubilation broke out in the courtroom and about 100 people celebrated outside, chanting: “Your blood will not go in vain, oh colonel,” referring to Younes.
There was no immediate comment from Jalil. He said in August that the NTC knew who killed Younes but did not elaborate. He retired from politics that month and returned to his native town in eastern Libya.
Younes was slain in mysterious fashion after NTC leaders summoned him back to Benghazi, their political headquarters in eastern Libya, to discuss “mistakes at the front line”.
His death caused deep rifts within the rebellion, exposing tensions between Islamists - whom Gaddafi fiercely suppressed during his 42-year dictatorship - and secularists, with various factions accusing each other of responsibility.
Libya continues to suffer from violent disorder.
Fighting in Tripoli last week between rival militias that gained power during the uprising underlined the challenges Libya’s first freely elected government faces in overcoming clan, regional and sectarian divisions standing in the way of modernization in the oil-producing North African state.
Last November, NTC chief military prosecutor Yussef Al-Aseifr named Ali El-Essawi, the NTC’s interim deputy prime minister until he stepped down earlier this year, as the main suspect in the Younes killing.
On Wednesday, Essawi was charged with misuse of authority and, along with nine other men, assisting in the abduction of Younes before his death. Another man, Salem al-Mansouri, was charged with the actual killing.
Only Mansouri is in custody. A trial was set for February 20.
“What happened today is a great step forward in the case of my father,” said Younes’ son al-Motassim Billah. “It seems likely that Abdel Jalil has knowledge of what happened in the killing of my father.”
Younes was part of the group involved in the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power. Some rebels were never comfortable with a military leader who had until recently been so close to Gaddafi, and Younes had been involved in a dispute over the command of the rebel forces.
Members of the tribe to which Younes belonged have been demanding a thorough and transparent investigation and the prosecution of those responsible.
Jalil, 60, who was a judge and justice minister during the Gaddafi era, resigned from Gaddafi’s government in February 2011, at the start of the uprising.
He served as NTC chairman, during which he enjoyed good relations with the Arab League, European Union and United Nations, before handing power in August this year to the head of a 200-member national assembly elected the month before.
Jalil returned to his hometown of al-Bayda where locals have recently seen him buying bread and playing football.
Writing by Hadeel Al-Shalchi; Editing by Mark Heinrich