Gadhafi Son's Death: A New NATO Mission?

Libyan officials reported Sunday that a NATO bomb strike on a house in Tripoli killed the youngest son of Moammar Gadhafi and three of the Libyan leader's grandchildren.

The reports have not been independently confirmed, but according to an official spokesman, Gadhafi was in the house but was not hurt. If true, the attack could signal that NATO is stepping up its efforts to bring a close to the weeks-long conflict.

From the Libyan city of Benghazi, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen that government officials took journalists to a mangled house that it said had been hit by a series of NATO bombs overnight.

The attack struck the house of one of Gadhafi's younger sons, Seif al-Arab, when the Libyan leader and his wife were inside, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said. Seif al-Arab, 29, and three of Gadhafi's grandchildren, all younger than 12, were killed, he said.

Ibrahim called the attack a clear assassination attempt by NATO, far overstepping its U.N. mandate to protect civilians.

Yet reports of the attack and deaths are unconfirmed, Garcia-Navarro said.

"We know the government in Tripoli has lied on several occasions about civilian casualties and strikes and damage," she says. "Frankly, we only have their word so far for what happened."

In Benghazi, the rebel stronghold, Libyans greeted the news with a mix of jubilation and skepticism. The rebel leadership there was cautious, saying that the Gadhafi government was trying to garner sympathy.

Nonetheless, people took to the streets in the early hours of the morning, honking horns and firing guns in celebration.

"It went on for several hours," Garcia-Navarro says. "People really celebrating here, feeling that NATO was finally doing its job — which they feel should be targeting Moammar Gadhafi."

NATO has denied that it was deliberately targeting Gadhafi, saying its bombs are aiming for command-and-control structures. "But if it turns out that Gadhafi was indeed there," Garcia-Navarro says, "then it seems more likely that they are deliberately targeting him."

If so, Garcia-Navarro says, then that would signal a substantial change of the mission, which started out as an enforcement of a no-fly zone before turning into bombing raids.

"Again, NATO has denied it, but frankly, the war is at a stalemate now," Garcia-Navarro says.

"If he was at the house that was targeted, then NATO is getting pretty good intelligence — and that means they're getting leaks from within the Gadhafi government," she says.

"That may be another important sign that support for him is dwindling."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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