News Africa

Monday 20 November 2017

Libya: Gaddafi's sons escape capture by rebel forces

Col Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam makes the victory sign as he appears at the Rixos hotel in Tripoli, Libya. Photo: AP
Saif al Islam in Tripoli last night. Photo: BBC

Matthew Holehouse

A defiant Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who acted as de-facto prime minister to his father, appeared early this morning in a carpark at his father's Bab al-Azizya compound in Tripoli before taking reporters on a tour of the parts of the capital still controlled by the regime.

"Tripoli is under our control. Everyone should rest assured. All is well in Tripoli," he boasted as gunfire rattled around the port city.

Yesterday the rebels announced Saif was under arrest and negotiations were underway to hand him to the International Criminal Court.

His older brother, Mohammed Gaddafi, was also reported to have broken free of house arrest last night.

"You have seen how the Libyan people rose up," Saif al-Islam said, referring to the loyalists' fierce fighting with rebel forces.

"The West has high-tech technology which disrupted telecommunications systems and sent messages to the people," he said, referring to text messages sent to Tripoli residents on Sunday night declaring the fall of the regime.

"This is a technological and media war to cause chaos and terror in Libya."

The capture of Saif al-Islam was yesterday announced by the rebels and the International Criminal Court, which has indicted him for crimes against humanity.

The commander of a loyalist battlion that surrendered at the gates of Tripoli had directed rebels to the hotel where the heir was hiding, a National Transitional Council spokesman claimed yesterday.

He was arrested with his brother, the playboy footballer Saadi, who is wanted by Interpol and accused of ordering soldiers to shoot on unarmed protestors in Benghazi.

How he came to appear hours later in his father's compound is yet to be explained but the images of the grinning graduate of the LSE have shocked and dismayed rebels in Benghazi.

"I am here to refute the lies," he said about reports of his arrest. Sabri Malik, a UK-based Libyan dissident, told the BBC Saif al-Islam was arrested but then freed by a rebel faction secretly protecting the Gaddafi family.

Saif al-Islam arrived in an armoured 4x4 and claimed the rebels had suffered "heavy casualties" in the bitter fighting for the dictator's base. Then, riding in a white limousine amid a convoy of armored SUVs, he took reporters on a drive through parts of the city still under the regime's control, saying, "We are going to hit the hottest spots in Tripoli."

The tour covered areas already under the regime's control around the Rixos hotel and the military barracks, and passed through streets guarded by roadblocks and lined with loyalists.

Flashing a v-for-victory sign, he left his car and shook hands with volunteers waiting to be handed guns.

"We are here. This is our country. This is our people, and we live here, and we die here," he told the Associated Press. "And we are going to win, because the people are with us. That's why were are going to win. Look at them - look at them, in the streets, everywhere!"

Meanwhile, Mohammed Gaddafi has escaped from rebel-imposed house arrest, the Libyan ambassador to Washington confirmed last night.

He was snatched by "maybe Gaddafi's forces," according to Ali Suleiman Aujali of the National Transitional Council.

Early yesterday morning Mohammed, the eldest son of Colonel Gaddafi and the head of the Libyan Olympic Committee was placed under house arrest. During a telephone interview with Al Jazeera gunfire could be heard.

"Gunmen surrounded my house and I am still at home and they are outside," he told the channel.

"Yes, the gunfire is inside my house," he said before the line was suddenly cut off.

Meanwhile, Mustapha Ben Halim, Libyan prime minister from 1954-57 who has urged Saif al-Islam to pursue reform, has told CNN: "The circus is over."

He said he expects Gaddafi to go into exile and to "continue his fight". He called on the new government to care for the orphans and families of "20,000 martyrs".

Rebels in Tripoli remain defiant today, despite the push back from loyalists. Fighter Abdel Azouz told the Washington Post:

"We are winning, it is safe. There's just a few dirty rats here and there who don't want to give up."

As Libyans wake up to images of Saif al-Islam free and defiant, the rebels are facing hard questions about how he managed to escape detention, or if he was ever captured at all.

Sabri Malik, a UK-based Libyan dissident, has claimed that Saif al-Islam was arrested but then freed by a rebel faction secretly protecting the Gaddafi family, according to the BBC.

Al-Jazeera reports rebels in Benghazi are shocked and dismayed by his reappearance.

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