The Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) had issued a warrant for the arrest of its top general, who was killed by gunmen after he had been held and questioned by their investigators regarding "a military matter", the head of the council says.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the NTC, said that the warrant had been signed by Ali Essawi, his deputy, and that after Abdel Fattah Younes, the commander of the rebel armed forces, had been questioned on Thursday he had been released.
Jalil, speaking at a press conference on Saturday, said that it was following Younes' release that two men killed the general and two of his aides.
Jalil said that the men fled with the bodies in a car, and had later burned them.
He stressed that the throats of the men had not been cut, apparently suggesting that the killing was not the work of Islamists, Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley, who was at the press conference in Benghazi, reported.
"Jalil inferred that this was the work of pro-Gaddafi agents seeking to create divisions within the opposition," Birtley said.
Jalil also announced that there would be a clampdown on informal armed groups who have not been fighting under the banner of the opposition armed forces.
"The time has come to disband these brigades. Anybody who refuses to take part in this decree will be tried with the full measure of the law," Jalil said.
Ali Tarhouni, the NTC's oil minister, said that members of the armed groups in Benghazi could either join the rebel armed forces at the frontlines, join the Benghazi security services or lay down their arms.
Birtley reported that there were inconsistencies between the various accounts of the death coming from the NTC.
"For example, shortly before Jalil's press conference, the media information minister said that the general had been recalled to Benghazi just to discuss the situation on the frontline. He made no mention of a warrant," Birtley said.
The NTC earlier announced that it had formed an "investigative committee" to probe the assassination of Younes and the two aides, after a special forces officer and opposition minister said fellow rebels had been responsible for murdering them.
The killing of the general has created a power vacuum at the top of the military hierarchy and raised questions about divided allegiances within the opposition.
Tarhouni had earlier claimed that a rebel militia leader who had been asked to fetch Younes from the front line near the town of Brega had been arrested and had confessed that his subordinates carried out the killing.
State television targeted
Meanwhile, NATO's air campaign against Gaddafi's troops continued on Saturday, with the alliance claiming to have carried out a "precision air strike that disabled three ground-based Libyan state TV satellite transmission dishes" in Tripoli, according to a statement from Colonel Roland Lavoie, a NATO spokesperson.
|NATO says it bombed the dishes to stop Gaddafi's "terror broadcasts", but al-Jamahiriya remained on air [Reuters]
Khaled Basilia, the director of al-Jamahiriya state television's English language section, said, however, that three people had been killed and 15 others wounded in the attack.
He termed the air strike "an act of international terrorism" and said it was in violation of the UN security council resolutions under which NATO is acting.
NATO said it was acting under "our mandate to protect civilian lives".
Over the past 24 hours, NATO says it has hit 13 military targets near Brega, four targets in and around Tripoli [in addition to the satellite dishes] and 16 targets in other towns and cities.
The rebels, meanwhile, continued their advance through Libya's western mountains, with a rebel commander telling the Reuters news agency that his forces had encircled forces loyal to Gaddafi at Tiji, the last camp in the area left in their control.
Nasir al-Hamdi, a former colonel in Gaddafi's police force and now a rebel commander in the west, said about 500 government troops were trapped in Tiji, and that rebel forces were bombarding them with tank shells.
Conflicting accounts of death
A spokesman for Gaddafi said al-Qaeda was responsible for Younes' death, while a rebel special forces officer said the perpetrators were members of the February 17th Martyrs' Brigade, one of the many ad-hoc units that have formed during the uprising.
Jalil had called Younes "one of the heroes of the 17th of February revolution" at a late-night press conference on Thursday, during which he announced the killing.
Jalil did not say Gaddafi's forces were directly responsible for Younes' killing at the time, but said Gaddafi was seeking to break the unity of rebel forces.
Younes, a longtime aide and interior minister to Gaddafi, defected on February 20 and helped the mostly unarmed protesters in Benghazi overthrow the regime's military garrison there.
By Saturday, several sources were placing blame for the killing, with some accusing Gaddafi.
"By this act, al-Qaeda wanted to mark out its presence and its influence in this region", Gaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters. "It is al-Qaeda that has the power in the east."
But Mohammed Agoury, a member of the rebel special forces, told the AP news agency that he was present when a group of rebels from the February 17th Brigade came to Younes' operations room before dawn on Wednesday and took him away for interrogation.
Younes had been summoned to appear before a judicial inquiry convened by the NTC to investigate a "military affair," Jalil said on Thursday.
Sources said Younes was suspected of somehow collaborating with Gaddafi's regime.
Agoury said he tried to accompany his commander, but Younes "trusted them and went alone".
"Instead, they betrayed us and killed him," he said.
Abdul Hakim, a nephew of Younes, said that Younes' body was returned to his family on Thursday, burned and bearing bullet wounds.
Younes laid to rest
On Friday, tens of thousands of people gathered in Benghazi's central courthouse square - renamed Tahrir Square by the opposition - to observe Friday prayers and mourn Younes' death.
They carried coffins and chanted "the blood of martyrs will not go in vain" under the gaze of security forces.
Birtley said Younes' body was not actually present at the Friday ceremony, but the slain commander was laid to rest later in the day at al-Hawari cemetary.
Younes was given a military farewell with a 300-soldier salute before being buried.
The crackling of machine guns shot in the air competed with the crowds chanting, and members of Younes' family came to receive condolences.