The strike gave Libyan officials powerful new fodder to continue trying to demonize the West’s role in Libya’s civil war at a time when policymakers in Washington and NATO capitals are growing impatient with the coalition’s failure to quickly oust Moammar Gaddafi.
NATO acknowledged having obliterated the compound that belonged to Khoweidi al-Hamidi, a close associate of Gaddafi.
“The facility which was struck was identified as a command and control node through rigorous analysis based on persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance carried out over a prolonged period of time,” NATO said in a statement Monday night.
The statement said the alliance could not confirm that civilians were killed in the strike, but said it “would regret any loss of civilian life.”
Libyan officials described Hamidi as a “private citizen” and used the strike to bolster their assertion that NATO is targeting civilians.
“Children do not live in military compounds,” Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told journalists standing near smoldering debris at the walled compound in Surman, 40 miles west of Tripoli. “Families don’t live in military compounds.”
An Associated Press reporter who visited a nearby hospital morgue where the bodies were taken described seeing between eight and 10 corpses, including those of two children. The reporter also saw the remains of a residential house in the bombing ruins.
Hamidi escaped unharmed, but his wife and two of his grandchildren were among the dead, Ibrahim said. Hamidi, one of Libya’s wealthiest citizens, took part in the coup that catapulted Gaddafi to power in 1969 and has remained an influential regime insider ever since.
Hamidi’s daughter is married to the one of the Libyan leader’s sons, Saadi.
Government critics say Libya has sought in recent months to conceal its historically opaque security apparatus on civilian compounds to preserve its fighting ability as NATO warplanes have dropped hundreds of bombs on military targets.
The coalition said in its statement that it does not “target specific individuals,” but said the site was used to plan “systemic attacks on the Libyan people.”
As NATO’s three-month military campaign has intensified in recent weeks, Libyan officials have sought to shift the public’s focus from the popular uprising that led to a civil war between Gaddafi’s regime and rebels based in the eastern city of Benghazi.
The U.N. Security Council authorized NATO to use military force in Libya in March after Gaddafi’s regime crushed uprisings, using tanks, artillery and live ammunition.
“It has never been a conflict about democracy or peace or political change in Libya,” Ibrahim, the Libyan government spokesman, said. “Gangs of armed rebels wanted to gain wealth and power, and the West got involved to support them and have some of the Libyan cake.”
Ibrahim said the recent bombings have hardened the resolve of Gaddafi supporters. He said men and women are flocking in droves to military training centers to bolster the beleaguered armed force.
A day after he sought to temper the Libyan foreign minister’s call for “global jihad” against the West, Ibrahim predicted that NATO’s mission would radicalize future Libyan generations.
“These people will grow up hating the West, wishing death on the West, joining all types of violence committed against the West,” he said. “These hateful generations will make the world a very dangerous place to live in.”
European foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday issued a statement saying they remain committed to protecting Libyan civilians and to forcing Gaddafi out of power.
“Time is not on Gaddafi’s side,” the ministers said in the statement. “He has lost all legitimacy to remain in power.”
Birnbaum reported from Berlin.