Khamis Gadhafi, the son of embattled Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, was killed overnight in a NATO airstrike, according to a rebel spokesperson, but NATO has been unable to confirm the dictator's son's death.
The rebel spokesperson told Reuters and Agence France-Presse that Khamis, head of Libya's elite military unit the 32nd Brigade or Khamis Brigade, had been taken out in Zlitan, a town at the forefront of the fighting about 100 miles East of Tripoli, along with 32 other Gadhafi loyalists. Part of the Khamis Brigade's mission, as described by leaked U.S. State Department cables, is to protect the Gadhafi regime at all costs.
A NATO spokesperson in Naples, Italy, confirmed an airstrike had taken place on military targets in Zlitan but could not confirm whether Khamis was caught in it. Another rebel spokesperson told The Associated Press he too was unsure of Khamis' death.
The initial rebel report marks the second time this year that Khamis, 28, has been proclaimed dead. 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.
A few days later, however, a man strongly resembling Khamis appeared on live state television greeting jubilant Libyan supporters in Tripoli.
Khamis, one of five Gadhafi sons, was also reportedly almost killed by a U.S. airstrike back in 1986 after then-President Ronald Reagan blamed Moammar Gadhafi directly for a terror attack in West Berlin that killed two U.S. servicemen. Khamis, a child at the time, suffered severe wounds but survived.
In addition to leading the Khamis Brigade, as of late 2009, Khamis was also the key to Libyan power for any of his brothers should Moammar fall, according to a leaked State Department cable posted on the website WikiLeaks.
Due to his military command and respect among regime loyalists, "it seems only natural that anyone intent on assuming power would try to align himself with Khamis," a U.S. official says in the cable.
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.
The trip was part of an internship program with Los Angeles-based engineering giant AECOM, set to span just over a month, and take Khamis to tours and meetings with high-profile universities and companies from Houston to L.A., San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Washington D.C., New York and Boston, according to travel documents obtained by ABC News.