BENGHAZI (Reuters) - The influential Libyan tribe of a slain rebel army commander vowed on Saturday to take justice into their own hands if rebel leaders do not release the results of an investigation into his death by the end of Ramadan.
Abdel Fattah Younes, the interior minister under Muammar Gaddafi who defected near the outset of Libya’s six-month uprising, was killed on July 28 after rebel leaders summoned him for questioning, infuriating members of his family and tribe.
“After Eid, that is the final deadline,” Tarek, one of Younes’ sons said in an interview at the family’s Benghazi compound. He did not say exactly what the tribe intended to do if the results were not released.
The rebel leadership council’s chief, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, told reporters on Wednesday authorities would arrest the suspected killers “when the higher interests of this revolution will not be damaged,” stoking anger among Younes supporters.
The murder has presented a steep test to the insurgents’ nascent National Transitional Council as it tries to set up a credible justice system and sidestep tribal fault lines that could further destabilize the war-battered and heavily-armed country.
Members of Younes’ family, who blame Islamist militants for his death, said the council’s failure to hold the suspected killers to account would suggest rebel leadership was infiltrated by “radicals” with a “hidden agenda.”
“We need to prevent the tyranny of Gaddafi turning into the tyranny of those ideological groups,” said Mohammed Hamid, Younes’ nephew. “There are those who want the country to be run by militias like Afghanistan.”
Younes’ Obeidat tribe and its allies had promised to join the “front lines” against those accused of the crime if the council does not release the names of the suspects, he added.
Outside, leaders of the tribe gathered under a tent to meet with committee members monitoring the investigation’s progress.
Many said Eid el-Fitr, end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, was the longest they would wait. When one lawyer on the observing committee asked for patience and said the investigation would take time, several men shouted him down.
“We do not know what will happen (if the results do not appear after Eid),” Saad K. Abdalla El Ebaidi, brother of another officer killed alongside Younes, said. “The young people of the Obeidat tribe are very angry and they need it as soon as possible.”
Eid is expected to begin on Tuesday.
A council spokesman dismissed the chance of violence and said a criminal investigation was still underway although an administrative probe had finished. He said the main reason some suspects were not arrested was because they had not been found.
“They’ve identified two people who actually carried out the assassination. Also, the head of the brigade is under arrest. But the two that carried out the assassination are still at large,” Shamsiddin Abdulmolah said.
“The investigation is ongoing. Once it’s finished it will be announced. They’ve already identified the people who committed the crime.”
Many young rebels were suspicious of Younes because of his long association with Gaddafi, whose ubiquitous secret police and prisons kept Libyans constantly afraid of arbitrary arrest, torture and death.
Gaddafi’s administration suppressed an Islamist uprising that sprang from the country’s east and, in 1996, killed hundreds of inmates, many of them from the east, in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison. Both episodes caused resentment in the east of Gaddafi and anyone associated with him.
Younes’ family say Islamist militants were also embittered by the general’s links to the Western military alliance NATO and by his demand that all militias integrate into the rebel army.
A family member said Younes’ grave had to be guarded and sealed with cement after an attempt to dig up the corpse.
Family members are also pressing for the administrative and criminal investigations to be merged so that officials who were not directly involved in the killing are also prosecuted.
“If it is negligence then it is third degree murder, if they were involved it is first degree,” Abdelrazeg Hossein, one of Younes’ cousins, said.
(Editing by Christian Lowe and Alastair Macdonald)
This story corrects reference to Islamist uprising and Abu Salim killings in paragraph 17