Capture of Gadhafi's son sets up Libyan legal wrangle
On the run for almost a month after the death of his father, Moammar Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam has been captured in southern Libya.
Libya's acting justice minister Mohammed al-Alagi confirmed that Gadhafi's heir apparent was detained Friday night by revolutionary forces and flown to the mountain town of Zintan. He had not been seen since Tripoli fell to revolutionary forces in late August.
Images broadcast on state television in Libya purported to show Seif al-Islam under the watch of a guard after his capture. Three of his fingers were bandaged. Other images showed him wearing brown robes and a turban similar to those worn by the nomadic Tuaregs.
Adel al-Zintani, a spokesperson for revolutionaries based in Zintan, said Seif al-Islam was captured after 4 a.m. local time, during a gun battle.
"The Zintan revolutionaries who were guarding the southern-most borders of Libya received information two days ago that Seif al-Islam was planning an escape to either Niger or Algeria and they were able to find his location exactly and stop him," al-Zintani said. "He looked tired. He was wearing Tuareg clothing."
As news of the capture spread, celebratory gunfire rang out in Tripoli.
"This is the day of victory, this is the day of liberation, finally the son of the tyrant has been captured," said Mohammed Ali, an engineer, as he celebrated on Tripoli's Martyrs' Square. "Now we are free, now we are free, God is Great."
According to Robert Reid, the Middle East regional editor for The Associated Press, Seif al-Islam was captured while travelling in a convoy with a group of aides about 50 kilometres west of the southern town of Obari. According to Reid, his captors say they will deliver him to Tripoli once a new government is in place, perhaps within days.
"There could be some back and forth on what to do with this fellow," Reid told CTV News Channel. He noted that while the Libyans would like to put Seif al-Islam on trial, he is also wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in connection with the brutal crackdown on dissent that led to civil war early this year.
"It looks like he's going to take the fall for the whole regime," Reid added.
During an appearance on News Channel, North African Journal editor Alessandro Bruno said he doubted Seif al-Islam was trying to escape completely.
"I think his real goal was to be captured by international forces so he would be tried in The Hague and not Tripoli," said Bruno, who noted that Gadhafi's son will likely be executed if convicted in his homeland.
On Saturday, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said he will travel to Libya next week to discuss where Seif al-Islam will be tried.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo said he is concerned that Gadhafi's son get a fair trial and that he be tried for the same charges he faces at the ICC.
"The good news is that Seif al-Islam is arrested, he is alive, and now he will face justice," Ocampo said in The Hague.
Marek Marczynski of Amnesty International called on the National Transitional Council, which now governs Libya, to transfer Seif al-Islam to the ICC right away.
"The ICC has an arrest warrant out for him and that is the correct thing to do. He must be brought before a judge as soon as possible," he said. "It matters for the victims. What they need to see is true justice. They need to know the truth about what happened."
But Libya's Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam said the government had yet to decide what to do. He said in his opinion, Seif al-Islam "is an outlaw and should be tried in front of the Libyan Court, by Libyan people and by Libyan justice."
Canadian Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, who led the NATO mission in Libya, echoed others in the international community by saying the treatment of Seif al-Islam will be a test for post-Gadhafi Libya.
"It's critical in that it will help this country bring closure," Bouchard said Saturday, while at a security conference in Halifax.
"It's imperative in my opinion for Libya to show their ability to exercise legitimacy through the proper conduct of law."
The oldest of seven children of Moammar and Safiya Gadhafi, Seif al-Islam, who was 39, had once courted favour with the west by touting himself as a liberalizing reformer but that changed dramatically when the uprising began.
"Seif came out very strongly in support of his father," Reid said. "He almost began to out-Gadhafi Gadhafi."
When anti-government protests began in February in the eastern city of Benghazi, Seif al-Islam went on television to make a 40-minute speech in which he warned demonstrators there would be "rivers of blood" if they did not back down.
The AP bureau chief said Seif al-Islam's loyalty to his father reminded him of a popular Mafia film.
"It was a scenario like ‘The Godfather'," he said, "where Michael Corleone changes his life because of loyalty to his old man."
With files from The Associated Press