Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi narrowly survived a NATO air strike that killed his youngest son and three of his grandchildren, a Libyan government spokesman said Sunday.
Gaddafi himself and his wife Safiyah were both in the house of 29-year-old son Saif al-Arab Gaddafi in Tripoli when at least one missile hit the building late on Saturday but the leader survived the strike, said Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim. Western journalists who visited the badly damaged building questioned if anyone could survive the strike.
The air strike sparked an angry response from Russia, which accused NATO of overstepping the mandate created by its United Nations resolution.
In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the attack “arouses serious doubts about coalition members’ statement that the strikes in Libya do not have the goal of physically annihilating M. Qaddafi and members of his family.”
The missile attack on the home, in a residential part of the city, came hours after Gaddafi called for a ceasefire in a speech delivered live on Libyan state television. The Libyan government has repeatedly said it is ready for a political resolution to the conflict and a ceasefire, while continuing to launch military assaults on opposition forces, particularly in Misurata and the western mountains region.
"We renew our call for peace and negotiations," said Ibrahim.
Saif al-Arab was the least known of Gaddafi’s seven sons. All of the grandchildren were under the age of 12, said Ibrahim.
"The house of Mr Saif al-Arab Gaddafi was attacked tonight with full power. The leader with his wife was there in the house with other friends and relatives,” Ibrahim told a news conference according to various news agencies.
"The leader himself is in good health, he wasn't harmed," he said, adding that Gaddafi's wife was also unharmed but other people in the house were injured.
"This was a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country. This is not permitted by international law. It is not permitted by any moral code or principle. What we have now is the law of the jungle. We think now it is clear to everyone that what is happening in Libya has nothing to do with the protection of civilians."
Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, Commander of NATO’s Libyan operations, said in a statement posted on the alliance’s website that he was aware of “unconfirmed media reports” that some of Gaddafi’s family members had been killed. But he insisted all strikes were against military targets.
“All NATO’s targets are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the Gaddafi regime’s systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas. We do not target individuals,” he said.
“We regret all loss of life, especially the innocent civilians being harmed as a result of the ongoing conflict. NATO is fulfilling its UN mandate to stop and prevent attacks against civilians with precision and care — unlike Gaddafi’s forces, which are causing so much suffering.”
While the reports of the deaths of Gaddafi's son and grandchildren, although unconfirmed, will raise questions about how NATO is interpreting its United Nations mandate to protect civilians. Under UN Resolution 1973, NATO is permitted to use “all necessary measures” to protect civilians against Gaddafi’s forces, who have been trying to crush a rebellion since February. NATO has insisted it is not trying to kill Gaddafi.
Reuters reported that Libyan officials showed journalists the house in the upscale Gharghour neighborhood. The house had been hit by at least three missiles and parts of the roof had caved in completely, according to Reuters.
Ibrahim refused to give the names of the three grandchildren he said were killed. They were all aged under 12, he said.
Saif al-Arab was the least-known of Gaddafi’s children and had only a limited role in the country’s power structure. He was a student who had studied in Germany, Ibrahim said.
Indeed he appears to have been a black sheep of the family. German magazine Der Spiegel reported in 2007 that Saif al-Arab had been arrested after getting into a fight with a nightclub bouncer, but no charges were filed.