- Libya - Muammar Gaddafi - war crimes
Pressure builds for fair trial for Gaddafi's heir
The international community's call increased Sunday for a fair trial for the son of ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Saif al-Islam was captured on Saturday, and taken to the city of Zintan.
REUTERS - Saif al-Islam Gaddafi spent Sunday secreted in the militia stronghold of Zintan while in Tripoli the Libyan rebel leaders who overthrew his father tried to resolve their differences and form a government that can try the new captive.
With rival local militia commanders from across the country trying to parlay their guns into cabinet seats, officials in the capital gave mixed signals on how long the prime minister-designate, Abdurrahim El-Keib, may need to form his full team.
And though the Zintan mountain fighters who intercepted the 39-year-old heir to the four-decade Gaddafi dynasty deep in the Sahara said they would hand him over once some central authority was clear, few expect Saif al-Islam in Tripoli soon.
One senior member of the outgoing interim executive told Reuters he expected Keib to announce his line-up by Monday, ahead of a Tuesday deadline determined by a timetable that started with the killing of Muammar Gaddafi a month ago.
Members of the National Transitional Council (NTC), the self-appointed legislative panel of notables formed after February’s uprising began, expect to vote on Keib’s nominees, with keenest attention among the men who control the array of militias on the streets focused on the defence ministry.
One official working for the NTC said that the group from Zintan, a town of just 50,000 in the Western Mountains outside Tripoli that was a stronghold of resistance to Gaddafi, might even secure that ministry thanks to holding Saif al-Islam.
Other groups include rival Islamist and secularist militias in the capital, those from Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the original seat of revolt, and the fighters from the third city of Misrata, who took credit for capturing and killing the elder Gaddafi and haggled with the NTC over the fate of his rotting corpse for several days in October.
“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 4x4 vehicles on a desert track.
It ended, after a 300-mile flight north on a cargo plane, with the London-educated younger Gaddafi held in a safe house in Zintan and the townsfolk vowing to keep him safe until he can 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.”
Despite a tense couple of hours on the runway on Saturday, when excited crowds rushed the plane that flew him from Obari, the Zintani fighters holding him said they were determined he would not meet the fate the Misratis reserved for his father.
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 Keib to seek foreign help to ensure a fair trial.
Keib, who taught engineering at U.S. universities before returning to Libya to join the rebellion, drove on Saturday the two hours from Tripoli to Zintan to pay homage to its fighters. He promised justice would be done but Saif al-Islam would not be handed over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which had indicted him for crimes against humanity.
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 tries to stamp its authority.
Western leaders urged Libya to work with the ICC which has also issued an arrest warrant for Saif al-Islam, on charges of crimes against humanity during the crackdown.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both called on Libya to hand him over to the ICC and guarantee his safety.
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, told Reuters.
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.”
Libyans believe Saif al-Islam knows the location of billions of dollars of public money amassed by the Gaddafi family. There was no word of the other official wanted by the ICC, former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi.