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Begging for his life, the tyrannical Gaddafi son who reaped whirlwind

EVEN at his most desperate moment, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi showed the perplexing mix of ordinary mortal and deranged princeling that had so fascinated the world.

When he was captured, lying face down in the dust of the central Sahara, his hands being cuffed behind him, he tried to pretend he could escape recognition. "My name is Abdulsalam al-Targi," he told his captor, Alajami Ali Al-Ateri.

Al-Targi means The Tuareg; the effete academic still wearing his silver-rimmed spectacles was trying to pass himself off as a hardy desert nomad.

As he was led away, he showed his nerves. "I can tell you are from Zintan," he said. "Don't take me to any of those other places. Shoot me or take me to Zintan."

He knew what had happened to his father when captured by men from "other places". Zintan, apparently, prides itself on its code of honour.



Crusaders

But as he sat in the car on the way to the airport, the other Saif al-Islam showed his face.

"It was like he was trying to show off," Mr Al-Ateri said.

"He was back to using his old language. He said that this revolution would not succeed. Libya would go back to being how it was under his father's rule. The crusaders and the Qataris who came to fight us would not take us anywhere, we would never win."

Then the nervous Saif returned. As they boarded the plane, to what he thought was an uncertain fate, he began to beg again. "When we get there I don't want to be insulted or mistreated," he said.

According to Mr al-Ateri's band of 14 men who captured him, deep in the desert dunes north of the oasis oil town of Obari, it was a classic set-up.

Though the Zintan brigade had help from western intelligence agencies in the war, British and French intelligence sources denied any involvement.

Instead, Mr Al-Ateri and another member of the squad, Ahmed Amer, said they had heard reports from intelligence sources, relayed through Zintan and Tripoli, of a "VIP" hiding near Sabha, the main city.

Even when a local man approached them to say he had been offered one million euro to escort the "VIP" through the desert to the border with Niger and Algeria they did not realise who it was.

They laid the trap well. They told the informant to lead the convoy of vehicles -- in the end just two Toyota Land Cruisers -- to the centre of an area of sand dunes, for 1.30am. The "VIP" thought he was escaping; in fact he was being led into an ambush.

"The informant was driving the first car and came to a halt," Mr al-Ateri said. "We surrounded them firing into the air."

They also fired into the engine of the second car, preventing its escape.

Its occupants, four men, tried to run for it but could get nowhere in the dunes.



Disguise



In the first car was a Gaddafi cousin. With Saif al-Islam was the nephew of Abdullah Senussi, Amr Abdulgasem Amr, and two bodyguards, all of whom were returned to Zintan with their former boss.

Saif had already escaped capture at least twice. This time there was no such luck. In the end, the five went quietly, Saif lying down in his brown Tuareg's robes, headscarf wrapped around his face, to be handcuffed. "We approached the car," Ali al-Hameli, another of the group, said. "He was confused, panicking as we approached. He tried to escape, running away from the car.

"Then he lay down in the sand, hiding face down in his disguise." All Mr al-Ateri could see were his eyes.

"I have to say they seemed familiar," he said. But it was one of Saif's gang who snitched. "You realise who that is," he said, and then the celebrations began. The rebels searched the vehicle and found a hand grenade, several Kalashnikov rifles, and $4,000 in cash.

On Saturday morning, a Russian-built Antonov An-32 painted with the new tricolor flag of "Free Libya", flew from Tripoli to Obari.

Within minutes of touching down the plane was surrounded by hundreds of people chanting "Allahu akbar" and rocking the plane as they fired into the air, clambered over the wings and tried to prise the door open.

The preening, vainglorious Gaddafi disappeared. "I'm staying here. They'll empty their guns into me the second I go out there," he said.

Then his convoy arrived, and he was whisked off, through the mob, to his new home. Where it is, no one who knows is saying.

hnews@herald.ie


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