Conflict & Justice

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi captured in Libyan desert: reports



Muammar Gadaffi's son, Saif al-Islam, being interviewed in Tripoli on February 26, 2011. Saif al-Islam was reportedly captured November 19, 2011, in the Libyan desert.


Mahmud Turkia/Stringer

Muammar Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, was captured in a firefight Saturday by revolutionary fighters in the Libyan desert after weeks on the run, senior military commanders told CNN. He was reportedly injured during the firefight but is in good health.

Libyan militiamen are holding al-Islam in the anti-Gaddafi stronghold of Zintan in the Western mountains until Tripoli has a government to try him, reported Reuters.

The Washington Post reported he was captured while his supporters tried to smuggle him out of Libya.

Senior military commanders told CNN that Saif al-Islam, who was known as Gaddafi's favored son and was a prominent member of the ruling family, was captured early Saturday in an area between the southwestern town of Obari and the southern town of Sabha.

Othman Mliegta, commander of the Al Qa'aq brigades, said he had been told that Saif al-Islam was slightly injured in the clashes that took place when the fighters attempted to capture him but is in good health.

According to The New York Times

Though government and militia leaders did not present direct proof that the man in custody was Seif al-Islam, a reporter for Reuters was on the plane with him as he was flown to Zintan. The reporter said that Mr. Qaddafi, wearing an uncharacteristically heavy beard, appeared to be in decent condition, though he showed a heavily bandaged right hand that he said had been wounded in a NATO airstrike about a month ago.

The Daily Telegraph reported that a pro-rebel TV station in Libya is now showing photographs of a man wearing traditional robes with a scarf pulled over his face, that purports to be Saif al-Islam after his capture.

Saif-al Islam has been wanted for trial by the International Criminal Court, which confirmed his arrest Saturday.

"We are in touch and coordinating with the Libyan ministry of justice to ensure that any solution with regards to the arrest of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi will be in accordance with the law," ICC spokeswoman Florence Olara told CNN.

According to Reuters, while Saif al-Islam's capture ties up an awkward loose end for Libya's new rulers, disputes over what to do with him could severely strain the country's fledgling systems and structures.

"This may temporarily bring the feelgood factor back to the streets, with most of the recent attention being focused on clashes and divisions between different rebel militias, and protests over pay and the perceived mistakes of the NTC," said Alan Fraser, Middle East analyst for London-based risk consultancy AKE, referring to post-Gaddafi transitional authorities.

"(But) what's for certain is that it will ignite passions that could have the potential to destabilise the reconstruction process. There will be a lot of media attention on this issue and that will likely prevent it from going away."

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Saif al-Islam has been on the run since late October when Libya's revolutionary forces took control of Sirte and captured and then quickly killed his father, Muammar Gaddafi. The captured and killing of Gaddafi ended a months long battle between Gaddafi's loyalists and rebels -- now known as revolutionary forces -- assisted by NATO air strikes for control of Libya.

Libya's capital Tripoli erupted in celebration after a news conference Saturday announcing Saif al-Islam's capture, the Washington Post reported. There was "celebratory gunfire, singing and dancing."

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Scenes of joy broke out in the streets as the news was announced on Libyan television, and people hung out of the windows of their cars, honking horns, flashing lights and flying the red, black and green revolutionary tricolor. Cries of “Allahu Akbar” filled the air as crowds hugged each other and wept.

See highlights of GlobalPost's coverage of Gaddafi's capture and killing.