After being reported dead for the second time this year, one of Moammar Gadhafi's sons and the head of an elite Libyan military unit appears to be alive and well.
A man who Libyan state television called Khamis Gadhafi, head of the feared 32nd Brigade or Khamis Brigade, appeared on the channel overnight in an apparent attempt to dismiss rebel claims that he had perished in a NATO airstrike last week.
The video shows the man, who closely resembles the 28-year-old, touring a hospital in Tripoli where he visited several people state TV said were wounded in a NATO airstrike.
A rebel spokesperson had said Friday that Khamis was killed in a NATO airstrike on the front line city of Zlitan, but a NATO spokesperson in Naples, Italy, said the international organization could not confirm that report. At the time, another rebel spokesperson told The Associated Press that he, too, was unsure of Khamis' death.
If genuine, the video marks the second time this year that Khamis has been rumored dead only to reappear on state television. In March, it was widely reported by the opposition that he had died of severe burns after a defecting Libyan pilot crashed his plane into Libya's central military compound in Tripoli. Days later, Khamis reappeared on state television greeting jubilant regime supporters in Tripoli.
According to several leaked U.S. State Department documents posted on the website WikiLeaks, Khamis Gadhafi is seen within the family as an important source of military strength and legitimacy should a succession battle break out among Moammar Gadhafi's five sons. The military unit Khamis commands, the Khamis Brigade, is the best trained and best equipped military unit in the country and is charged with protecting the regime at all costs.
"It seems only natural that anyone intent on assuming power would try to align himself with Khamis," a U.S. official wrote in one of the cables.
Other cables reveal that representatives of Khamis were directly involved in negotiations for the sale of non-lethal U.S. military equipment to the regime in the years before the popular uprising in mid-February, a sign of the improved relationship Libya and the U.S. had been enjoying since the U.S. took Libya off the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2006.
In fact, when popular protests spread through Tripoli, Khamis was not there. Instead, he was visiting Wall Street, just one stop on a cross-country tour of the U.S. organized by an American company with U.S. State Department approval.