Newsmaker: Gaddafi son may prefer surrender to death, after all

Thu Oct 27, 2011 9:03am EDT

Saif Al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, gestures as he talks to reporters in Tripoli, August 23, 2011.   REUTERS/Paul Hackett

Saif Al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, gestures as he talks to reporters in Tripoli, August 23, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Paul Hackett

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(Reuters) - Saif al-Islam Gaddafi once vowed to fight and die on Libyan soil, but now he may be ready to hand himself in to the International Criminal Court rather than suffer his father's gruesome fate.

An official of the National Transitional Council said on Wednesday that Saif al-Islam, the only one of Muammar Gaddafi's eight children still on the run, had proposed surrendering to the Hague-based ICC, where he is wanted on war crimes charges.

Any surrender would mark another U-turn by Saif al-Islam, an internationally well-connected philanthropist and liberal reformer who turned abruptly into a soldier ready to die rather than capitulate when rebels rose up against his father.

"We fight here in Libya; we die here in Libya," he told Reuters Television in an interview shortly after the rebellion broke out in February.

Three of Gaddafi's sons did die on home soil, along with their father, whose battered and abused body went on public show in a meat store before its burial on Tuesday.

But Saif al-Islam, whose name means "Sword of Islam," wants to put his fate in the hands of the ICC, along with Gaddafi's former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, who is also wanted by the court, the NTC official said.

Educated at the London School of Economics, Saif al-Islam was once seen by many governments as the acceptable, Western-friendly face of Libya, and heir apparent to his father. But when the rebellion broke out, he immediately chose family and clan loyalties over his many friendships in the West.

RUMOURS OF ARREST

As Tripoli fell to rebels in August, the ICC's prosecutor announced he had been arrested, opening the way for his extradition. However, he soon popped up at a Tripoli hotel used by foreign journalists to prove he remained a free man.

"I am here to disperse the rumors ...," he said, pumping his fists in the air, smiling, waving and shaking hands with supporters.

The ICC later said it had never received official confirmation of Saif's capture.

Gaddafi's four other surviving children -- three sons and a daughter -- are in exile in neighboring Algeria and Niger.

Analysts doubt that Saif al-Islam could lead a serious insurgency against Libya's rulers, saying his influence is much reduced with his dominating and intimidating father now dead.

"The answer really is a big 'no'. Saif rose to prominence by virtue of being his father's son," said Jon Marks, chairman of the consultancy Cross Border Information.

"Ironically, his biggest boosters during the 'Saif years' -- when he was prominent but perhaps never dominant given his father's leading role pulling the strings -- are the very governments and politicians who ended up bombing his regime into oblivion."

REFORM EFFORTS

Before the rebellion, Saif al-Islam sometimes appeared genuinely at odds with Gaddafi senior, who ruled for 42 years through fear and violence.

Mainly through his charitable Gaddafi Foundation, Saif al-Islam pushed for reform, including more media freedom, acknowledgement of past rights abuses and the adoption of a constitution. He also oversaw a reconciliation with Islamist rebels who launched an insurgency in the 1990s.

But his efforts were stymied by opposition from inside the ruling elite and -- some analysts say -- from members of his own family. Last year, the independent newspaper he had helped to found was forced to mute its criticism of the authorities and his foundation withdrew from political activities.

One of his projects did succeed, albeit one that suited his father. He played a central role in negotiating the lifting of U.S. and European sanctions on Libya in 2004, in return for Tripoli ending its nuclear and chemical weapons programs.

This led to Britain's then-prime minister, Tony Blair, visiting Tripoli to embrace Gaddafi senior, long a pariah in the West.

Saif al-Islam owned a 10-million-pound ($16-million) home in London but his activities and friendships caused much embarrassment in the West when the rebellion broke out.

The director of the London School of Economics, Howard Davies, resigned over the university's ties to its former student.

The LSE had accepted a 300,000-pound donation from Saif al-Islam's foundation, a decision that Davies said had "backfired." The LSE also investigated the authenticity of Saif al-Islam's PhD thesis, which was awarded in 2008.

(Additional reporting by William Maclean; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Comments (8)
Hyperbolic wrote:
After seeing his Father repeatedly stuck with a punji stick where the hot, African sun doesn’t shine – who can blame him for trying to avoid a similar fate?

Oct 27, 2011 11:55am EDT  --  Report as abuse
slipster67 wrote:
What a one sided article,making out as though he is running scared.
Is it not more likely that he wants to hand himself in so he can expose the fraud and corruption that the west were involved in with his family. Is it also because he wants the world to know the deals that were made to secure the release of Megrahi,The billions that were invested in some of the most tinged and corrupt companies in the world with links to the biggest crooks in the US/UK political world.
Or maybe is he handing himself in as he knows that Nato are deliberately trying to strike him like his father as they don’t want these sordid secrets coming out, the deliberate targeting of Gaddafi by nato planes is also a war crime, what time are they handing themselves into the ICC at ?
Over to you with that one Reuters

Oct 27, 2011 1:10pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
only_A_vessel wrote:
They think we need a body or burial location to make a shrine of him. The moment he stopped breathing his body became dust – dust to dust. His spirit lives and shall remain forever in our hearts. Gaddafi, you were a true King but you preferred to remain Colonel because you knew that the title doesn’t make the man. There is none on the face of this earth who equals you! RIP King of kings! RIP.

Oct 27, 2011 2:28pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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