LONDON, England - Oil prices topped $110 on Wednesday for the first time since early September 2008 after news that a Libyan fighter pilot had disobeyed orders to bomb opposition stronghold of Benghazi, analysts said.
The news immediately stoked fears over the position in Libya itself, where many Western oil companies have suspended operations, and in the wider Middle East where many countries face protests for change.
In afternoon deals, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in April rallied as high as $110.35, the highest level since September 2, 2008.
At the same time, New York's light sweet crude for April, known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), jumped to $97.97, a level last witnessed on October 2, 2008.
"Following news that a Libyan air force plane crashed near Benghazi after its crew bailed out as they refused to carry out orders to bomb the city, crude oil prices spiked and Brent surged above $110 per barrel, while WTI almost tested $98-levels," Sucden analyst Myrto Sokou told AFP.
"The oil market reacted straight away to the news that raised further worries and frustration about the political unrest in the MENA (Middle East North Africa region)."
A fighter pilot disobeyed orders on Wednesday to bomb Benghazi and ditched his plane after he and his co-pilot ejected, a Libyan newspaper reported on its website.
The Russian-made Sukhoi 22 came down near Ajdabiya, 160 kilometres (100 miles) west of the city which has fallen to anti-regime protesters, a military source said, quoted in Quryna newspaper.
"Pilot Abdessalam Attiyah al-Abdali and co-pilot Ali Omar al-Kadhafi ejected with parachutes after refusing orders to bomb the city of Benghazi."
On Monday, the pilots of two Libyan fighter jets landed in Malta and defected after they had been ordered to attack protesters in Benghazi.
Moamer Kadhafi's regime has lost vast swathes of Libya's east to an insurrection, it emerged Wednesday as pressure mounted on the strongman to step down amid growing evidence of a "bloodbath."
In recent weeks, oil prices have soared on the back of violent unrest in the Arab world, with protestors toppling the autocratic leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.
The unrest in the key oil-producing MENA region which includes Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Iran -- all of which have seen uprisings -- has stoked fears of disruption to supplies, analysts said.