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Qaddafi Is Said to Survive NATO Airstrike That Kills Son


Mahmud Turkia/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images
Libyan government officials gave a tour of the house they said was hit by a NATO airstrike in Tripoli late Saturday night.



BENGHAZI, Libya — The government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafisaid he survived an airstrike in Tripoli late Saturday night that killed one of his sons and three grandchildren, in the sharpest intensification yet of the NATO air campaign intended to pressure the Libyan leader from power.
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    Bryan Denton for The New York Times
    Libyan rebels and citizens celebrated Saturday in Misurata after hearing reports that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's youngest son was killed in Tripoli.

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    The son, Seif al-Arab Muammar el-Qaddafi, 29, and the grandchildren, all said to be younger than 12, were possibly the first confirmed casualties in the airstrikes on the Libyan capital. And while the deaths could not be independently verified, the campaign against Libya’s most densely populated areas raised new questions about how broadly NATO is interpreting its United Nations mandate to protect civilians.
    It is the second airstrike in seven days to hit a location intimately close to the Libyan leader, following a midnight attack last week that destroyed an office building in his compound where he and his aides sometimes work.
    In a news conference early Sunday morning in Tripoli, a Qaddafi government spokesman called the strike an illegal attack. “This was a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country,” said the spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim.  “This is not permitted by international law. It is not permitted by any moral code or principle.” He said that the colonel and his wife, who were staying at the house along with “friends and family,” were not hurt.
    American and NATO officials have said they are not seeking to kill Colonel Qaddafi, and some have suggested it might not be very easy. But frustrated by the evasion and resilience of Colonel Qaddafi’s military, NATO has pledged to step up its strikes on the broader instruments of his power, including state television facilities and command centers in the capital.
    In a news release, the NATO mission’s operational commander, Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, said he was aware of the reports of Qaddafi family deaths but called them unconfirmed. He added: “All NATO’s targets are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the Qaddafi regime’s systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas. We do not target individuals.”
    A NATO official in Naples, Italy, reached by e-mail and responding on condition of anonymity, said that allied planners had not known Qaddafi family members were in the building that was attacked, which the official described as a command and control center. The official would not specify the nationality of the aircraft or pilots that carried out the strike.
    In a video broadcast by the satellite channel Al Jazeera, Libyan officials showed reporters what they said was the destroyed house, a large crater, crumbled concrete and twisted metal, and someone dusting off what appeared to be an unexploded bomb. 
    It is not the first time Colonel Qaddafi has survived such a close call. In 1986, the United States struck his compound in retaliation for a terrorist attack on a German nightclub frequented by American service members. Colonel Qaddafi has incorporated his survival into his cult of personality, preserving the wreckage of the building as a “Museum of Resistance” and erecting a statue of a giant fist grabbing an American warplane.
    Although several of Colonel Qaddafi’s seven sons and one daughter play major roles in the Libyan economy and government (including an older brother with a similar name, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi), the son reported killed had been considered a black sheep, believed to spend much of his time in Munich. Many Libyans said they had never seen his picture. In 2007, the German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that he had been briefly detained by the Munich police after getting into a fight with a nightclub bouncer; no charges were filed.
    In Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital in eastern Libya, and in Misurata, a western city that Colonel Qaddafi’s forces have besieged for months, celebratory gunfire rang out and explosions could be heard.
    But even then, doubts lingered in Benghazi about whether the news was true:  in interviews, residents said they were happy but suspected a ploy by Colonel Qaddafi to win sympathy. Ramadan el-Sheikhy, who said his brother was killed in one of Colonel Qaddafi’s prisons, said any sympathy was misplaced.  “I was truly happy at the news,” he said. “Hopefully, he felt the pain of having a relative killed.” 
    Earlier Saturday, NATO officials had rejected an offer by Colonel Qaddafi to call a cease-fire and negotiate as false. The proposal was delivered in a rambling and often defiant speech, broadcast over Libyan state television, in which Colonel Qaddafi insisted he would never leave Libya.
    “Come France, Italy, U.K., America, come, we’ll negotiate with you,” Colonel Qaddafi said. “You lie and say I’m killing my own people. Show us the bodies.”

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