The killing of the Libyan rebel commander, who was facing questions over the insurgent eastern army's failure to push west toward Tripoli, is stirring tribal tensions and is embarrassing the rebellion's political leaders.
But the murder of Abdel Fatah Younes also ends a dangerous and divisive rivalry among generals -- Younes accused of being a mole for Moammar Gadhafi, and his successor, Gen. Khalifa Hifter suspected of having ties to the CIA.
"This underscores some of the challenges that the (rebel) Transitional National Council faces. This is certainly one more of them. They've had to overcome many challenges in their struggle. And I think what's important is that they work, both diligently and transparently, to ensure the unity of the Libyan opposition," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said today.
"It's just important to keep that unified structure and to remember that they represent the Libyan people," Toner added. "The ultimate goal here is to lead a democratic transition and remove Gadhafi from power."
Hifter will now likely consolidate his control over the rebel armed forces with the slaying yesterday of Younes, who, along with two other officers was allegedly killed by a gang while he was on his way to answer questions about his army's shortcomings from members of the rebel Transitional National Council.
Like Younes, Hifter was a top military officer in the Libyan leader in the Gadhafi regime until he sought refuge in the U.S. after a Libyan force he commanded in Chad in the late 1980s was decimated.
Hifter has lived outside of Washington, D.C. since the early 1990s, maintaining ties to anti-Gadhafi groups back in Libya. Hifter, who has been accused of having ties to the CIA, returned to Libya earlier this year to help lead the rebel army against Gadhafi.
Younes, meanwhile, switched sides in the Libyan revolution after Moammar Gadhafi sent him home to Benghazi to lead a attack there complete with Srebrenica-like mass executions, but he was distrusted from the outset by some in the rebel ranks. Some people suspected he was a double agent, still working for Gadhafi.
His inability to move the army on the battlefield contributed to a further falling out with some of his subordinates in the military and members of the rebel council.
The rebel government says it has already made one arrest in the killing of Younis, but it is not yet releasing the suspect's name or further details.
However, the TNC will have to be forthcoming, if it wants to hold together the tribal coalition fighting to unseat Gadhafi. The Obeidi, the armed and angry eastern Libyan tribe that Younes belonged to, wants answers to questions about the suspicious killing of the general.
The U.S. would like an explanation, too.
"He is a senior figure, and they've lost both his military expertise and his leadership, and again, it's very unclear who was at fault here. We've seen reports that this was an internal matter. We've reached no conclusions yet," Toner said.