The Libyan government was quick to announce the deadly accuracy of a NATO missile strike on the compound of Moammar Gadhafi, but rebel leaders today said the claims that four Gadhafi family members were killed are a publicity stunt by the flamboyant strongman.
The government announced early today that the dictator and his wife had survived a NATO attack on his compound, but that Gadhafi's son Saif al-Arab was killed, along with three of Gadhafi's grandchildren, all younger than 2 years old.
A government spokesman said it was positive proof that NATO is focused on trying to kill Gadhafi, not merely neutralize his military capabilities, as the alliance has said.
"This was a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country," Moussa Ibrahim, Libyan government spokesman, said at a news conference today.
The rebel leadership in Benghazi said they doubt anyone was killed in the attack. They claim Gadhafi is simply trying to win international support and split the coalition of nations that has supported the NATO air campaign.
NATO confirmed that it struck "a known command and control building in the Bab al-Azizya neighborhood" of Tripoli Saturday evening, but denied that Gadhafi was the target of the attack.
"All NATO's targets are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the Gadhafi regime's systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas," said Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO's Operation Unified Protector. "We do not target individuals."
Reporters who visited the site today said the damage was so complete it was hard to see how anyone in the building that were struck could have escaped uninjured.
In Benghazi, the capitol of the rebel movement, news of the strike was greeted with celebration on the streets.
This was the third NATO strike on targets used by Gadhafi. Last Friday a bunker near his Tripoli compound was struck by two bombs.
In the past, when Gadhafi has said shown his family members that were wounded in attacks against him.
When the United States bombed Libya in 1986, Gadhafi allowed Western reporters into the hospital to see two of his sons injured in that attack. Saif al-Arab, who was allegedly killed last night, was 4 years old at the time of the U.S. bombing and was one of the injured.
Supporters of Gadhafi were so angered by the bombingm, they ransacked and burned the U.S., U.K., French, Italian and Qatari embassies today in Tripoli.
A senior U.S. official told ABC News that three buildings in the embassy compound were attacked and looted by people who appeared to be loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, though it was unclear weather they were Libyan military.
One of the buildings was set on fire and the other two were occupied by Libyans. The Tripoli fire department put out the blaze, but the amount of damage was unknown, the official said.
There are no U.S. personnel in Tripoli, and security for the embassy buildings had been provided by Turkey, which kept staff in the Libyan capital even after the U.N.-sanctioned campaign of air strikes against Gadhafi forces began.
The reports that members of Gadhafi's family had been killed in the bombing brought criticism of NATO from Russia, which called for an immediate cease-fire and negotiations to end the conflict between Gadhafi and the rebel forces.
"Statements by participants in the coalition that the strikes on Libya are not aimed at the physical destruction of ... Gadhafi and members of his family raise serious doubts," a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
But NATO said it would continue operations against the Libyan military and all the troops loyal to Gadhafi, including mercenaries hired by the regime.
Since NATO took over the campaign of air strikes on March 31, Gadhafi has said several times that he was ordering a cease-fire, but the fighting has not stopped.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.