The 39-year-old, who had been on the run since the National Transitional Council forced his father from Tripoli as it took control of the capital in August, was detained with two aides trying to flee to Niger, Bashir al-Tayeleb said in a news conference broadcast from Benghazi on Al Jazeera today. He is being moved to Zintan in western Libya, and officials will know in a few hours who captured him, al-Tayeleb said.
Saif al-Islam, a presumed heir to power whose connections with the West helped end Libya’s pariah status, took a hard line against the uprising that began in mid-February and culminated in his father’s death on Oct. 20. The younger Qaddafi promised “rivers of blood” if Libyans didn’t refrain from demonstrating against the government. He had been leading loyalist forces in the enclave of Bani Walid.
Crowds chanting “Libya hurra,” or “a free Libya,” swarmed into Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square following news of the capture. Volleys of automatic fire were heard and drivers sounded their horns in traffic jams that built up in the downtown area.
Saif al-Islam’s capture will be an early challenge for the new cabinet of Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib, which he’s due to announce tomorrow and will need to be approved by the governing NTC, a move expected in a few days. NTC leaders have previously indicated they would prefer to try Saif al-Islam and fellow ICC indictee Abdullah al-Senussi in Libya.
The ICC in The Hague issued arrest warrants on June 27 for Saif al-Islam, his father and military intelligence chief Al- Senussi, accusing them of involvement in the death, injury, arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the revolt. Al-Tayeleb, who is commander of the Zintan Brigades, didn’t comment on whether Al-Senussi was with Saif al-Islam.
The Libyan government must cooperate with the ICC and hand over Saif al-Islam, the court said today. If the Libyan government wants to hold a trial in Libya, it will have to demonstrate to the ICC that a “genuine and capable national prosecution” can be carried out, Fadi El-Abdallah, a spokesman for court, said by phone. The judges will then have to approve the request.
The ICC prosecutor will travel to Libya for talks on the trial venue, the Associated Press reported.
Wrapped in Bandages
Saif al-Islam will receive a fair trial in Libya in accordance with international standards, including coordination with the ICC, Al Jazeera reported, citing Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alaji. A picture of Saif al-Islam in custody, with some of his fingers wrapped in bandages, was shown on the channel.
Muammar Qaddafi died while trying to escape from his besieged hometown of Sirte. Conflicting accounts emerged over the manner of his death, with Human Rights Watch saying evidence suggests he was executed and NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil saying initially that he died in “crossfire,” and later that he may have been killed by loyalists to silence him.
The second of seven sons, Saif al-Islam has a master’s degree in business administration from Vienna’s Imadec University and a degree in global government from the London School of Economics.
He was viewed by many in the West as someone they could deal with and the best hope for a peaceful transition in Libya, advocating a vision for his country that contrasted with his father’s policies and sometimes publicly clashing with him. That changed with the start of the revolt in February, as he became one of his father’s most outspoken supporters and a spokesman for the regime.
Saif al-Islam, who played a key role in soothing relations with the U.S., helped to negotiate Libya’s position during economic sanctions and to mediate the release of western hostages abducted by the Islamic Abu-Sayyaf group in the Philippines.
The sanctions against Libya were lifted starting in 2003 after the Qaddafis allowed the extradition of two suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie in Scotland and stopped Libya’s nuclear weapons program.
Qaddafi’s third son, al-Saadi, told Al-Arabiya television in a March 7 interview that Saif al-Islam had been leading Libya for the previous four years.
The NTC declared Libya’s “liberation” from Muammar Qaddafi’s rule on Oct. 23. The declaration set in motion a process through which the first elections were due to be held within eight months. The council faces the tasks of uniting the factions that overthrew Qaddafi, disarming militias and restoring oil output.