Angry crowds went on the rampage in Tripoli yesterday, burning foreign embassies and forcing the UN to evacuate its foreign staff after a Nato bombing that the regime claimed left four members of Muammar Gaddafi's family dead.
The fallout from the air attack forced Nato onto the defensive and prompted its leaders and David Cameron to claim the attack was in line with the UN Security Council resolution to target the regime's “war-making machine”.
The Libyans claim the attack, which allegedly killed one of the Libyan leader's least known and least politically active sons, as well as three grandchildren, was a failed “assassination attempt” on Colonel Gaddafi.
Russia, which abstained in the Security Council resolution that paved the way for air attacks in Libya, led the criticism of the raid, saying it raised “serious doubts” over Nato assurances that the allies were not targeting the Gaddafi family.
As mobs launched revenge attacks on international targets in the capital, the UN airlifted its international staff out of the Libyan capital and the British and Italian missions were left in flames.
Britain expelled Libya's ambassador in London in response to the burning of its embassy, which was closed in February. UN officials confirmed that its Tripoli office was also ransacked.
There has been no independent confirmation of claims that Col Gaddafi's son Saif al-Arab (29) or any of the Libyan leader's grandchildren, all aged under 13, were killed in the blast at a residential compound in Tripoli on Saturday.
The Tripoli government's spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, said that Saif al-Arab “was playing and talking with his father and mother and his nieces and nephews” when Nato bombs hit. He said that Col Gaddafi escaped unhurt.
Nato confirmed it had targeted a “command and control” centre but denied targeting individuals and pointed out that the alleged deaths had not been confirmed.
During the weeks of Nato airstrikes, Saif al-Arab, one of the least known of Col Gaddafi’s eight children, was conspicuous by his absence as his siblings were wheeled out for propaganda purposes. It is perhaps unsurprising as in US diplomatic cables there are few mentions of the 29-year-old who “pursues ill-defined business interests and spends much time partying”.