HomeNewsCapture of Gaddafi son ends ‘Libyan drama’

Capture of Gaddafi son ends ‘Libyan drama’

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Libyan militiamen were holding Saif al-Islam in their mountain stronghold on Sunday, a day after seizing him without a fight in the southern desert and a month after his father, Muammar Gaddafi, was captured and killed.

“The final act of the Libyan drama”, as a spokesman for the former rebels put it, began in the blackness of the Sahara night, when a small unit of fighters from the town of Zintan, acting on a tip-off, intercepted Gaddafi and four armed companions driving in a pair of 4×4 vehicles on a desert track.

It ended, after a 300-mile flight north on a cargo plane, with the London-educated, 39-year-old heir-apparent to four decades of dictatorship held in a safe house in Zintan and the townsfolk vowing to keep him safe until he could face a judge in the capital.

The familiar sound of celebratory gunfire broke the nighttime silence, but the town nestled in the rugged Western Mountains was otherwise quiet.His captors said he was “very scared” when they first recognised him, despite the heavy beard and enveloping Tuareg robes and turban he wore.

But they reassured him and, by the time a Reuters correspondent spoke to him aboard the plane, he had been chatting amiably to his guards.

“He looked tired. He had been lost in the desert for many days,” said Abdul al-Salaam al-Wahissi, a Zintan fighter involved in the operation. “I think he lost his guide,” he said.

Despite a tense couple of hours on the runway on Saturday, when excited crowds rushed the plane that flew him from Obari to Zintan, an anti-Gaddafi bastion, the fighters holding him said they were determined he would not meet the fate of his father, who was killed after being seized.

Western leaders, who backed February’s uprising against Gaddafi, but looked on squeamishly as rebel fighters filmed themselves taking vengeance on the fallen strongman a month ago, urged the incoming government of Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib to seek foreign help to ensure a fair trial.

The Justice minister from the outgoing executive said the younger Gaddafi was likely to face the death penalty, though the charge sheet, expected to include ordering killings as well as looting the public purse, would be drawn up by the state prosecutor after due investigation.

Word of the capture set off rejoicing in the streets of cities across the vast, oil-rich nation of just six million. Streets echoed with gunfire, from rifles, but also the anti-aircraft cannon mounted on civilian pick-up trucks that became the abiding image of an eight-month civil war that ended with the ousted leader’s death in his home town of Sirte.

“Finally we beat him, after all his pointing at us with his finger on television and threatening us,” Waleed Fkainy, a militiaman on patrol in Tripoli, said of Saif al-Islam, whose image as a potential reformer of his father’s eccentric one-man rule evaporated with his venomous response to the uprising.

“Thank God,” Fkainy said. “We lived under his threats and now we have the upper hand after this victory.”

Saif al-Islam’s fate will be a test for Keib’s incoming government as it sets out to stamp its authority on a country now dominated by armed militias with largely local loyalties

Western leaders urged Libya to work with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has also issued an arrest warrant for Saif al-Islam, on charges of crimes against humanity during the crackdown on protesters.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both called on Libya to hand him over to the ICC and guarantee his safety. But Libya’s interim Justice minister Mohammed al-Alagy said Saif al-Islam would be tried inside Libya for serious crimes that carry the death penalty.

Keib said Libya would make sure Gaddafi’s son faced a fair trial and called his capture the “crowning” of the uprising.

“We assure Libyans and the world that Saif al-Islam will receive a fair trial . . . under fair legal processes which our own people had been deprived of for the last 40 years,” Keib told a news conference in Zintan.
Saif al-Islam, who had vowed to die fighting, was taken without a struggle, possibly as he tried to flee to Niger, officials said.

“At the beginning he was very scared. He thought we would kill him,” Ahmed Ammar, one of his captors, said. Saif al-Islam told the Reuters reporter on his plane a bandaged hand had been wounded in a NATO air strike a month ago. Asked if he was feeling all right, he said simply: “Yes.”

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