DUBAI Oct 27 (Reuters) - Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, fearing for his life if
captured in Libya, has tried to arrange for an aircraft to fly him out of
his desert refuge and into the custody of the Hague war crimes court, a
Libyan official said on Thursday.
Details were sketchy and confirmation not available but a picture has built
up since his father's grisly killing while in the hands of vengeful rebel
fighters a week ago that suggests Muammar Gaddafi's 39-year-old
heir-apparent has taken refuge among Sahara nomads and is seeking a safe
Even if he can still draw on some of the vast fortune the Gaddafi clan built
up abroad during 42 years in control of North Africa's main oilfields, his
indictment by the International Criminal Court at The Hague over his efforts
to crush the revolt limits the options open to Saif al-Islam.
That may explain an apparent willingness, in communications monitored by
intelligence services and shared with Libya's interim rulers, to discuss a
surrender to the ICC, whereas his mother and surviving siblings simply fled
to Algeria and Niger.
The Court, which relies on signatory states to hand over suspects, said it
was trying to confirm the whereabouts and intentions of Saif al-Islam and
ex-intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, the third man indicted along with
the elder Gaddafi.
A source with Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), which drove the
Gaddafis from power in Tripoli in August, told Reuters the two surviving
indictees were together, protected by Tuareg nomads, in the rugged
wilderness of the "Triangle", close to the borders of Algeria and Niger.
"Saif is concerned about his safety," the source said. "He believes handing
himself over is the best option for him."
The younger Gaddafi, once seen as a potential liberal reformer but who
adopted a belligerent, win-or-die persona at his father's side this year,
was looking for help from abroad, possibly Algeria or Tunisia, to fly out
and take his chances at The Hague, where there is no death penalty:
"He wants to be sent an aircraft," the NTC source said by telephone from
Libya. "He wants assurances."
COURT SEEKS CONFIRMATION
ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said the court was trying to confirm the NTC
comments and work out how to move the suspects:
"It depends where the suspect is and how we can get into contact with him
and what would be necessary to bring him to The Hague. There are different
scenarios," El Abdallah said.
Some observers question the accuracy of NTC information, given frequent
lapses in intelligence recently. Some suggest surrendering to the ICC may be
only one option for Saif al-Islam, who may hope for a welcome in one of the
African states on which his father lavished gifts.
The African Union, and powerful members like South Africa, grumble about the
nine-year-old ICC's focus so far on Africans and some of them may prove
sympathetic. Even if arrested on charges relating to his role in attacks on
protesters in February and March, Saif al-Islam could make defence arguments
that might limit any sentence, lawyers said.
NTC forces, which overran Gaddafi's last bastions of Bani Walid and Sirte
this month, lack the resources to hunt and capture fugitives deep in the
desert, the source said.
NATO, whose air power turned the civil war in the rebels' favour, could
help, he added.
But NATO, whose U.N. mandate is ending now that Muammar Gaddafi is dead,
stresses its mission is to protect civilians, not target individuals -
though it was a NATO air strike that halted Muammar Gaddafi's flight last
week. Even NATO resources would be stretched in the trackless waste of
A captured pro-Gaddafi fighter at Bani Walid told Reuters that the
London-educated Saif al-Islam had been in that town, south of Tripoli until
it fell earlier this month.
The man, one of his bodyguards, said the younger Gaddafi was "confused" and
in fear for his life when he escaped Bani Walid. If he has seen the gruesome
video footage of his father's capture, he knows how he may be treated if he
remains in Libya.
NTC WANTS TRIAL
Asked what the NTC was doing to cooperate with the ICC, the vice chairman of
the Council, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, noted that the Libyans still hoped to try
the suspects themselves:
"There aren't any special arrangements by the NTC," he said. "If Abdullah
al-Senussi and Saif al-Islam are arrested inside Libya they will be tried
and judged based on Libyan law.
"If they fled and went to countries such as Niger, for example, they will
have to be surrendered to the ICC," he adding, noting reports that Senussi
had already reached Niger.
Earlier this week, an NTC official said Saif al-Islam had acquired a
passport in a false name and was lying low south of Ghat, a border crossing
with Algeria through which his mother, sister and two of his surviving
brothers fled in August.
Algeria is not a signatory to the Rome treaty which set up the ICC, but
might face strong diplomatic pressure to hand over indicted suspects. The
NTC has also been pressing Algiers to hand over the other Gaddafi relatives.
Niger, an impoverished former French colony, has said it would honour its
commitments to the ICC. The mayor of the northern Niger town of Agadez, a
transit point for other fleeing Gaddafi allies, told Reuters Saif al-Islam
would be extradited to The Hague if he showed up.
Tunisia, to where other Gaddafi loyalists have fled, is also a signatory to
the ICC's conventions.
A member of the Malian parliament who has been in charge of relations with
Libya's NTC discounted reports that Gaddafi and Senussi had crossed Algeria
or Niger into Mali.
The mystery over their flight has spawned many rumours.
In South Africa, one newspaper said a plane was on standby there to fly
north and rescue Saif al-Islam along with a group of South Africans working
for him. NTC officials say South Africans may have been among those killed
in Sirte last week when Gaddafi was caught and killed.
Should he end up, like former Yugoslav leaders and others, in a Dutch jail,
Saif al-Islam would have no shortage of defenders, though a defence of
simply following his father's orders would carry little weight with ICC
An Iraqi lawyer who defended allies of Saddam Hussein in the U.S.-supervised
trials in Baghdad said the younger Gaddafi would be entitled to argue that
his actions were legitimate acts of defence during an aggressive war by
Though some of the ICC indictment relates to the use of force against
unarmed demonstrators before NATO intervened, Badie Arif, who defended
former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz, told Reuters: "It was a
foreign aggression made by colonialist countries and by NATO ... It is
illegitimate and illegal by all international standards."
Geert-Jan Knoops, a Dutch-based international criminal law attorney, said
Saif al-Islam could challenge the ICC case on two main fronts -- that it was
a political show trial aimed at justifying Western-backed regime change, or
by proving there was no evidence of a "political plan" to kill protesters.
A public platform could allow Saif al-Islam to embarrass some of the Western
leaders with whom he led a rapprochement in recent years.
His role in promoting reforms, thwarted by domestic opponents, might also be
used in his defence, though his angry outbursts against the revolt would
enable prosecutors to bolster a case in which they accuse him of recruiting
mercenaries to kill protesters as part of a "predetermined plan" with his
father and Senussi. (Additional reporting by Giles Elgood, Peter Apps and
Alastair Macdonald in London, Aaron Gray-Block in Amsterdam, Mark John in
Dakar, Nicholas Vinocur in Paris, Waleed Ibrahim and Jim Loney in Baghdad,
Brian Rohan in Benghazi, Barry Malone and Maria Golovnina in Tripoli and
Ibrahim Diallo in Agadez, Niger; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Thu Oct 27 2011 - 15:11:23 EDT