Khadafy survives NATO missile strike
Youngest son, 3 grandchildren killed in attack
TRIPOLI, Libya — Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy escaped a NATO missile strike in Tripoli, but his youngest son and three grandchildren under the age of 12 were killed, a government spokesman said.
The strike, which came hours after Khadafy called for a cease-fire and negotiations in what rebels called a publicity stunt, marked an escalation of international efforts to prevent the Libyan regime from regaining momentum.
Rebels honked horns and chanted “Allahu Akbar’’ or “God is great’’ while speeding through the western city of Misurata, which Khadafy’s forces have subjected to random shelling for two months, killing hundreds.
The attack struck the house of Khadafy’s youngest son, Seif al-Arab, when the Libyan leader and his wife were inside. White House spokesman Shin Inouye declined to comment, referring questions to NATO.
The alliance acknowledged that it had struck a “command and control building in the Bab al-Azizya neighborhood’’ last night, but it could not confirm the death of Khadafy’s son and insisted all its targets are military in nature and linked to Khadafy’s systematic attacks on the population.
Moammar Khadafy and his wife were in his son’s Tripoli house when it was hit by at least one bomb dropped from a NATO warplane, according to Libyan spokesman Moussa Ibrahim.
“The leader himself is in good health,’’ Ibrahim said. “He was not harmed. The wife is also in good health.’’
NATO warplanes have been carrying out airstrikes in Libya for the past month as part of a UN mandate to protect Libyan civilians. Yesterday’s strike marked the first time Khadafy’s family was targeted directly.
Armed rebels have been battling Khadafy loyalists for more than two months in an attempt to oust Libya’s ruler of nearly 42 years. Standing outside an improvised triage unit in a tent in the parking lot, rebel fighter Abdel-Aziz Bilhaj, 22, welcomed the attack, saying it would make Khadafy think twice about how he dealt with his people.
“It could make him more willing to back down on certain parts of his plan,’’ Bilhaj said.
Eleven dead had reached the hospital morgue by midnight. Two more had arrived by 1:30 a.m., and four more at another hospital.
On Tuesday, British Defense Minister Liam Fox and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at the Pentagon that NATO planes were not targeting Khadafy specifically but would continue to attack his command centers.
Ibrahim said Seif al-Arab, 29, had studied at a German university but had not completed his studies. Seif al-Arab “was playing and talking with his father and mother and his nieces and nephews and other visitors when he was attacked for no crimes committed,’’ Ibrahim said.
Journalists taken to the walled complex of one-story buildings in a residential Tripoli neighborhood saw heavy bomb damage. The blast had torn down the ceiling of one building and left a huge pile of rubble and twisted metal on the ground.
Ibrahim said the airstrike was an attempt to “assassinate the leader of this country,’’ which he said violated international law.
Heavy bursts of gunfire were heard in Tripoli after the attack.
Khadafy had seven sons and one daughter. The Libyan leader also had an adopted daughter who was killed in a 1986 US airstrike on his Bab al-Aziziya residential compound, which was separate from the area struck yesterday. That strike came in retaliation for the bombing attack on a German disco in which two US servicemen were killed. The United States at the time blamed Libya for the disco blast.
The fatal airstrike came just hours after Khadafy called for a mutual cease-fire and negotiations with NATO powers to end a six-week bombing campaign.
In a rambling predawn speech yesterday, Khadafy said “the door to peace is open.’’
“You are the aggressors. We will negotiate with you. Come, France, Italy, UK, America, come to negotiate with us. Why are you attacking us?’’ he asked.
He also railed against foreign intervention, saying Libyans have the right to choose their own political system, but not under the threat of NATO bombings.