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Libya accuses NATO of trying to assassinate defiant Khadafy

Guided bombs batter Tripoli headquarters; Italy says it will join in air strikes

By Simon Denyer
Washington Post / April 26, 2011

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TRIPOLI, Libya — Libya’s government accused NATO yesterday of trying to assassinate Moammar Khadafy after the coalition sent at least two large guided bombs into the sprawling office, residential, and military complex where he lives in the heart of Tripoli.

In a statement, the alliance described the attack early yesterday as a precision strike on a communications headquarters “that was used to coordinate attacks against civilians.’’

Security and fire officials at the scene said no one had been badly hurt, but government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said three people were killed and 45 injured, 15 critically, including officials and civilians.

The raid on the compound destroyed offices and a library used by the Libyan leader. A third bomb struck a state television broadcasting facility in Tripoli.

The attacks further increased the international military pressure on Khadafy, who has been clinging to control in western Libya. The United States last week added armed Predator drones to NATO campaign of air strikes. Italy said that its military will join in strategic bombing raids.

Also yesterday, Italy, after weeks of declining to participate in direct bombing raids, said for the first time that it would begin striking select military targets in Libya.

The New York Times reported that Italy announced its decision to participate in the air raids after a telephone conversation between President Obama and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Italy did not specify what kinds of targets its planes would hit but said its decision would place it “in line with allied operations.’’

The Bab al-Aziziyah compound includes the residence of the 69-year-old dictator, as well as government offices and military facility. It is also the scene of nightly celebrations by hundreds of civilians offering themselves as human shields to protect Khadafy against NATO.

“We are regarding it as an attempt to assassinate the leader and unifying figure of this country and other political leaders of this country,’’ Ibrahim said in a news conference in front of the ruined buildings, describing it an act “worthy of the mafia, of gangs, but not of governments.’’

“How is this act of terrorism protecting civilians in Libya? How is this act of terrorism helping establish peace in Libya?’’ he asked. “Targeting political leaders will only help make the situation worse.’’

The Obama administration denied that the strike was specifically intended to kill Khadafy. White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was not US or NATO policy to bring regime change to Libya.

“The goal of the mission is clear: protect the civilian population, enforce the no-fly zone, enforce the arms embargo,’’ Carney told reporters in Washington.

About 130 miles east of the capital, the rebel-held port city of Misurata came under heavy shelling for the third day in a row from Khadafy loyalist forces camped out on the southern and southwestern outskirts, said Mohamed Ali, a rebel spokesman. By evening, he said, at least 12 people had been killed and more than 22 injured in the latest barrages, which began overnight.

Khadafy’s forces have intensified their shelling and rocketing of Misurata in the three days since the government said it was lifting the siege. As a result, the death toll has been climbing at one of its highest rates since the battle for the rebel-held city began two months ago.

Also yesterday, the first shipment of food aid from US farms bound for Libya arrived in Alexandria, Egypt. The aid will be stored inside and outside Libya by the World Food Program, for use if the situation deteriorates, officials said.

The food — vegetable oil and pinto beans — is part of a $5 million donation by the US government of food from American farms. Washington has contributed another $5 million for food purchased in countries closer to Libya. The assistance is part of a $47 million US donation for humanitarian needs, much of which has been spent to help foreign workers fleeing the country.

The NATO attack in Tripoli was the second against the Tripoli complex since Western powers began a campaign of air strikes last month. It came hours after Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said NATO should “cut the head of the snake off’’ and that Khadafy and his entourage should wake up every day “wondering ‘will this be my last?’ ’’

Khadafy’s son, Saif al-Islam Khadafy, said the Libyan government would not be cowed.

“The bombing which targeted Moammar Khadafy’s office today . . . will only scare children. It’s impossible that it will make us afraid or give up or raise the white flag,’’ he was quoted as saying by the state-run JANA news agency.

Reporters heard two huge explosions and saw a red flash from the direction of Khadafy’s compound. There was also a third, smaller explosion, which officials said was the attack on the state television station.

Later, reporters were taken to see the scene of the main attack and shown a building that officials said contained offices and a library. Its roof was caved in, many of its walls had collapsed, and shattered masonry other debris were strewn over a large area.

A fire engine trained water on part of the building, while civilian supporters of the government clambered on the rubble, chanted pro-Khadafy slogans, and waved their green flags as thick cement dust swirled through the air.

An adjacent building, where earlier this month Khadafy met South African President Jacob Zuma and a delegation of four other African presidents looking to broker a peace deal, was also badly damaged.

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