TRIPOLI – The Libyan government said Sunday that ruler Moammar Gadhafi’s son and three of his grandchildren died in a NATO airstrike that the longtime strongman and his wife survived.
Gadhafi and his wife were in their son’s house when it was targeted, but they are in good health, government spokesman Musa Ibrahim told journalists. But the son, Saif al-Arab Gadhafi, and three of his children were killed, Ibrahim said.
The Libyan government vowed to retaliate with death to “invaders” in the nation, and empty Western embassies were vandalized on Sunday, U.S. and Italian officials said. But CNN could not independently confirm the reported fatalities, and a spokesman for anti-Gadhafi rebels cast doubt on the claim even as it provoked celebratory gunfire in rebel-held Benghazi.
Ibrahim slammed NATO after the airstrike, calling the attack an illegal act and a “war crime.” He said the 29-year-old son killed was a student in Germany, the sixth of eight children. The strike destroyed the house in Tripoli, leaving a massive crater.
Saif al-Arab Gadhafi is one of two sons of the Libyan leader whose names begin with Saif. Another son — Saif al-Islam Gadhafi — had previously touted reform, but has emerged as one of his father’s most visible defenders in recent months.
The commander of the NATO operation, Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, said NATO was aware of “unconfirmed media reports” that members of Gadhafi’s family had been killed in an airstrike.
“We regret all loss of life, especially the innocent civilians being harmed as a result of this ongoing conflict,” said Bouchard, a Canadian air force general. But he said all targets “are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the Gadhafi regime’s systemic attacks on the Libyan population … We do not target individuals.” But Russia, which has criticized the allied campaign, said it had “serious doubts” about NATO’s assertion that it is not targeting Gadhafi and his family.
“The disproportional use of force, all the more so, beyond the mandate of U.N. Security Council Resolution No. 1973, which in no way stipulates the replacement of the Libyan leadership, is leading to harmful consequences and the death of civilians,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official RIA Novosti news agency. “We are again calling for strict compliance with the provisions of the decisions made by the international community on the Libyan conflict, for an immediate cease-fire and the start of a political settlement without any preconditions.”
The airstrikes started March 19, after the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution authorizing the use of force to protect civilians demanding the ouster of the ruler, who has been in power for nearly 42 years.
A senior official in President Barack Obama’s administration said the U.S. government is “very aware” of the reports of Gadhafi’s son’s death, but cannot confirm who, if anyone, died in a strike until they see the evidence.