U.S. military denies reports helicopter opened fire on Libyan civilians during rescue mission

A spokesperson for the United States military has tonight categorically denied reports of a U.S. helicopter opening fire on Libyan civilians during a rescue mission of two fighter pilots who crashed near the eastern city of Benghazi.

Conflicting reports have emerged of the mission to rescue the two U.S. fighter pilots who ejected from their aircraft. The F-15E Strike Eagle that they were flying reportedly suffered a mechanical failure on Monday night and crashed. Soon after the accident, a U.S. military helicopter landed in the area to extract the airmen and reportedly opened fire on civilians, wounding six of them.

Photograph of a V-22 Osprey.

Unconfirmed reports indicate the six civilians were taken to a hospital in the area after being fired upon by the helicopter, a V-22 Osprey. One of the wounded, a young boy, was shot in the leg, which will likely now require amputation. Another of those reported injured said the shooting caused “great panic.” Wikinews understands the Pentagon is to open an investigation into the rescue mission.

Aerial view of The Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia.

However, a U.S. military spokesperson denied the reports “one hundred percent”, and said the incident “didn’t happen”. He said the aircraft which rescued the two airman was not fitted with weapons. “The Osprey is not armed and the Marines barely came off the aircraft,” he said.

The pilot of the fighter aircraft was extracted during the rescue mission, while the weapons officer was found and cared for by Libyan rebels before later being retrieved by American forces. Both crew members suffered only minor injuries, the military said. The fighter aircraft was deployed over Libya in support of the no-fly zone approved by the United Nations Security Council over Libya as part of Operation Odyssey Dawn.



Libya blocks access to Internet

The Libyan government has cut off Internet access in the country. The General Posts and Telecommunications Company, Libya’s main provider of Internet access, has ceased to function. It was shut down following citizen protests against the country’s leader, Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi, who has been in power since 1969.

The government of Egypt took a similar measure last month, when it cut off Internet trying to quell public protests against the regime. Despite the government’s efforts, Egyptians who took to the streets for two weeks were able to oust the nation’s president, Hosni Mubarak, after 30 years in office.

Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi, also known as Colonel Gaddafi, has been the leader of Libya since 1969. In the picture, al-Gaddafi in Dimashq, Syria. Image: James Gordon.

Limited access to the Internet makes it difficult to get information from the country. Libya is a country with a smaller population than Egypt, and has fewer service providers, which has apparently made the task of disconnecting everything a little easier.

In Egypt, the military refused to attack people protesting. The situation is different in Libya, where the armed forces attacked hundreds of demonstrators in the square of the city of Benghazi, causing many deaths.

The increasing violence in Libya has prompted the 27 European Union ministers to issue a statement protesting Libyan governmental violence toward protesters, saying it “condemns the ongoing repression against demonstrators in Libya and deplores the violence and death of civilians.” Two Libyan pilots have defected to Malta and asked for asylum, saying that they were ordered to fire on protesters, according to Maltese officials.

The violence has spread to Tripoli. Witnesses have reported that a “massacre” occurred today in suburbs of the Libyan capital with the indiscriminate shooting of women and children. According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds have died over the last four days.

The escalating violence is causing turbulence in the world energy markets. The International Monetary Fund says that energy exports accounts for approximately 95% of Libya’s export earning.

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