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Airstrikes kill 15 in Libya

Photo by Hassan Ammar

Photo by Hassan Ammar

SURMAN, Libya -- Libya's government said a NATO airstrike west of Tripoli early Monday destroyed a large family compound belonging to a close associate of Moammar Gadhafi, killing at least 15 people, including three children. The alliance said the strike hit a ''command and control'' center.

Gadhafi's regime has repeatedly accused NATO of targeting civilians in an attempt to rally support against international intervention into Libya's civil war. The alliance insists it tries to avoid killing civilians.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said NATO bombs struck the compound belonging to Khoweildi al-Hamidi outside the city of Surman, some 40 miles west of Tripoli, around 4 a.m. local time Monday.

NATO initially said it had not hit any targets in the Surman area overnight. But a spokesman in Naples, Italy, later said new information indicated the alliance conducted a ''precision strike'' on a ''high-level command and control node'' near Surman in the early hours of Monday. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with NATO regulations.

The commander of NATO's Libya operation, Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, said the ''strike will greatly degrade the Gadhafi regime's forces' ability to carry out their barbaric assaults on the Libyan people.''

''Wherever Gadhafi tries to hide his command and control centers, we will find them,'' he said.

NATO officials have repeatedly said the alliance does not target individuals. The spokesman said Monday he could not say whether the strike had caused civilian casualties.

Al-Hamidi is a longtime regime insider who took part in the 1969 coup that brought Gadhafi to power. He reportedly commanded a battalion that crushed rebels in the nearby western city of Zawiya in March, and his daughter is married to one of Gadhafi's sons, Saadi.

Ibrahim said al-Hamidi escaped the airstrikes unharmed but that three children, two of them al-Hamidi's grandchildren, were among the 15 people killed. Officials said he was inside a still-intact building at the time of the strike.

''They (NATO) are targeting civilians. ... The logic is intimidation,'' Ibrahim said. ''They want Libyans to give up the fight ... they want to break our spirit.''

Foreign journalists based in the Libyan capital were taken by government officials to the walled compound, where at least two buildings had been blasted to rubble. A pair of massive craters could be seen in the dusty ground, and rescue service workers with sniffer dogs were scouring the rubble in search of people. The smell of smoke was still in the air.

Bombs also appeared to have ripped holes through the top of a large tent sheltering cars, smashing the floor and mangling vehicles inside. The windows were shattered in a circular sitting room containing old framed photos said to be of al-Hamidi, and a deer kept in an enclosure with other animals had a broken antler and was bleeding from the mouth.