Libyan rebel commander: French military contractor killed in accidental shooting in Benghazi

The head and founder of a French military contracting company was killed in an accidental discharge of a weapon in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi as he was arguing about his team getting arrested, a rebel commander said Friday.

In Paris, the private military company SECOPEX Conseil said Pierre Marziali died Thursday at a Benghazi hospital after being wounded at a checkpoint as he and colleagues were leaving a restaurant overnight.

Marziali, 48, died hours before a planned meeting with the transitional government of rebels fighting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces. He was in Libya to set up a security guard service and a "secure corridor" on the road to Cairo, the company said.

France's government has been a major backer of the rebels. France's Foreign Ministry said Thursday that five Frenchmen were detained at a police checkpoint and that one was shot and later died in the hospital. It provided no names for the five.

In Benghazi, a rebel commander, Abdel-Basat Elshaheibi told The Associated Press that the four other Frenchmen who were with Marziali were subsequently detained at "a secret place" on suspicion of spying. He did not elaborate or say who the Frenchmen were suspected of spying for.

A statement from the rebels' transitional government late Friday said the Frenchmen were ordered arrested for alleged "illicit activities that jeopardized the security of free Libya." It said a committee headed by a judge was investigating the case.

Elshaheibi said the shooting incident occurred around 1 a.m. Thursday on the street of a residential Benghazi suburb where the men had been staying.

"When they went to arrest them, one of them (Marziali) started arguing and fighting, saying 'Nobody touch me. You can't arrest me.' The guy who was behind him pushed him with his gun, one of the bullets went off and he was killed," said Elshaheibi.

Elshaheibi alleged the Frenchmen had raised the rebels' suspicions from their arrival. He said they were staying at a private home although they had been advised to stay in a hotel. While the Frenchmen were offering their services to several rebel agencies, they also had been "asking many questions of private citizens that we found strange," Elshaheibi said, adding he had told Marziali the rebels did not need his company's expertise.

"We were suspicious from the start," Elshaheibi said.

The ragtag rebel army is poorly trained and accidental discharges and other mishaps with weapons are common among the fighters, many of whom are civilians who took up arms seized from Gadhafi's troops at the start of the Feb. 15 uprising against the Libyan leader.

Elshaheibi said that after the arrests, the rebels discovered from the stamps in the Frenchmen's passports that Marziali and one of his team had been in the Libyan capital Tripoli, which is controlled by Gadhafi, just three days before they drove to Benghazi from Egypt.

Marziali's company offers economic and military intelligence as well as bodyguard and other services, including guarding ships going through waters endangered by pirates.

When he was shot, Marziali was carrying a letter signed by the spokesman for the rebels' civilian National Transitional Council, Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, confirming that he had a meeting with him. Ghoga's office confirmed the letter, which was meant to ease the Frenchmen's passage through checkpoints on the road from the Egyptian border to Benghazi.

[Source: By Michelle Faul, The Associated Press, Benghazi, 13May11]

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