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January 7, 2013 6:35 pm
Assailants tried to kill a prominent Libyan Islamist leader by planting a bomb under his car, in an apparent revenge attack stemming from the uprising that ousted Muammer Gaddafi, police said on Monday.
One of the suspects was killed on Sunday during the assassination attempt on Ahmed Abu Khattala, who is being investigated by the US after the attack on its consulate in Benghazi in which its ambassador was killed.
“I was in the house when the bomb went off. Two men tried to put a homemade bomb under my car, which was parked outside the house, but it exploded first. One man ran away, the other died,” Mr Khattala told Reuters by telephone.
Lieutenant Colonel Younes Ahmed, of the Benghazi police, confirmed that two people had tried to plant a bomb under Mr Khattala’s car, and that one man had died in the explosion.
Police said the likely motive dated back to the splintered loyalties of the conflict that overthrew Gaddafi in 2011 after 42 years in power.
Tribal and historical loyalties still run deep in Libya, which is struggling to maintain central government control. It is a country where armed militia wield real power and meaningful systems of law and justice are lacking after the crumbling of Gaddafi’s eccentric personal rule.
Ahmed said the suspects were relatives of a military fighter, Lieutenant Ahmed Nasser Madhkour, who was killed at the same time as rebel military chief Abdel Fattah Younes, a former Gaddafi loyalist who had defected to the rebels.
“It seems the men who attempted the assassination were trying to avenge the death of their relative. They still blame Abu Khattala for the killing,” Mr Ahmed said.
Mr Khattala’s wartime militia, the Obeidah al-Jarrah brigade, was blamed in the killing in July 2011 of Younes.
Younes was involved in the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power. He was interior minister before he defected and took a senior position in the rebellion in February 2011.
Some rebels, especially hardline conservative Islamist fighters who were persecuted under Gaddafi, were never happy to serve under a man who had been so close to Gaddafi.
Mr Khattala was questioned by Libyan authorities but released because no evidence directly linked him to the killing. He said he later broke up his militia group.
US government officials have said that Mr Khattala is being investigated as a suspect in the consulate attack in September last year that led to the death of US ambassador Christopher Stevens.
US investigators are not clear if he played a role in leading or organising the attacks, but in an interview with Reuters in October, Mr Khattala said he was present at the consulate during the attack but was not its ringleader.
In December, he said he had still not been called in for questioning by the US or Libyan authorities.
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