* Zintan fighters hold Saif al-Islam
* Incoming PM says Saif will get a fair trial
* Arrest poses challenge for government
By Marie-Louise Gumuchian
ZINTAN, Libya, Nov 20 A month after
Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed, his son Saif al-Islam
was seized without a fight by Libyan militiamen who are now
holding him in their mountain stronghold until Tripoli has a
government to try him.
"The final of act of the Libyan drama", as a spokesman for
the former rebels put it, began in the blackness of the Sahara
night, when a small unit of fighters from the town of Zintan,
acting on a tip-off, intercepted Gaddafi and four armed
companions driving in a pair of 4x4 vehicles on a desert track.
It ended, after a 300-mile flight north on a cargo plane,
with the London-educated, 39-year-old heir-apparent to four
decades of dictatorship held in a safe house in Zintan and the
townsfolk vowing to see no harm to him until he can face a
judge, and maybe in due course, an executioner in the capital.
His captors said he was "very scared" when first they
recognised him, despite the heavy beard and enveloping Tuareg
robes and turban he wore. But they reassured him and, by the
time a Reuters correspondent spoke to him aboard the plane, he
had been chatting amiably off and on to his guards.
Despite a tense couple of hours on the runway, when excited
crowds rushed the plane that flew him from Obari in the desert
to Zintan, an anti-Gaddafi bastion in the Western Mountains, the
fighters holding him said they were determined he would not meet
the fate of his father, who was killed after being seized.
Western leaders, who backed February's uprising against
Gaddafi but looked on squeamishly as rebel fighters filmed
themselves venting vengeance on the fallen strongman a month ago
on Sunday, urged the incoming government of Prime Minister
Abdurrahim El-Keib to seek foreign help to ensure a fair trial.
Keib, who spent a career teaching engineering at U.S.
universities before returning to Libya to join the rebellion,
drove up from Tripoli to Zintan to pay homage to its fighters.
He promised justice would be done - though Saif al-Islam would
not be handed over to the International Criminal Court at The
Hague, which had indicted him for crimes against humanity.
Keib was expected to announce a cabinet line-up on Monday, a
source in the interim administration said, meeting a deadline of
Tuesday determined by a clock set ticking by Gaddafi's death and
completing the tricky task of balancing competing demands from
the array of local militias now in real control of Libya.
The justice minister from the outgoing executive said the
younger Gaddafi was likely to face Libya's death penalty, though
the precise charge sheet, expected to include ordering killings
as well as looting the public purse, would be drawn up only by
the state prosecutor after due investigation.
Word of the capture set off rejoicing in the streets of
cities across the vast, oil-rich nation of just six million.
Streets echoed with gunfire, from rifles but also the heavy
anti-aircraft cannon that, mounted on civilian pick-up trucks,
became the abiding image of an eight-month civil war that ended
with the ousted leader's death in his home town of Sirte.
"Finally we beat him, after all his pointing at us with his
finger on television and threatening us," Waleed Fkainy, a
militiaman on patrol in Tripoli, said of Saif al-Islam, whose
image as a potential reformer of his father's eccentric one-man
rule evaporated with his venomous response to the uprising.
"Thank God," Fkainy said. "We lived under his threats and
now we have the upper hand after this victory."
Saif al-Islam's fate will be a test for Keib's incoming
government as it sets out to stamp its authority over a country,
currently dominated by armed militias with largely local
loyalties which mounted the uprising.
Western leaders urged Libya to work with the International
Criminal Court (ICC), which has also issued an arrest warrant
for Saif al-Islam, on charges of crimes against humanity during
the crackdown on protesters.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both called on
Libya to hand him over to the ICC and guarantee his safety.
But Libya's interim justice minister Mohammed al-Alagy told
Reuters Saif al-Islam would be tried inside Libya for serious
crimes that carry the death penalty.
Keib said Libya would make sure Gaddafi's son faced a fair
trial and called his capture the "crowning" of the uprising.
"We assure Libyans and the world that Saif al-Islam will
receive a fair trial ... under fair legal processes which our
own people had been deprived of for the last 40 years," Keib
told a news conference in Zintan.
Saif al-Islam, who had vowed to die fighting, was taken
without a struggle, possibly as he tried to flee to Niger,
"At the beginning he was very scared. He thought we would
kill him," Ahmed Ammar, one of his captors, told Reuters.
Saif al-Islam told the Reuters reporter on his plane a
bandaged hand had been wounded in a NATO air strike a month ago.
Asked if he was feeling alright, he said simply: "Yes."
The Zintan fighters, who make up one of Libya's most
powerful militia factions that hold effective power in a country
still without a government, said they planned to keep him until
they could hand him over to authorities.
Keib heaped praise on the militia and said Gaddafi's son
remained in the hands of "the revolutionaries in Zintan",
acknowledging the authority the militia continued to hold over
Zintan could now use Saif al-Islam as a bargaining chip in
the contest between rival groups for power in the new Libya.
Fighters from Zintan made the decisive push on to Tripoli which
ended Muammar Gaddafi's rule, and they want to make sure their
contribution is recognised.
Libyans believe Saif al-Islam knows the location of billions
of dollars of public money amassed by the Gaddafi family. His
captors said they found only a few thousand dollars and a cache
of rifles in seized vehicles.
Ammar told Reuters that his unit of 15 men in three
vehicles, acting on a tip-off about a possible high-profile
fugitive, had intercepted two cars carrying Gaddafi and four
others in the desert about 70 km (40 miles) from the small oil
town of Obari at about 1:30 a.m. (2330 GMT on Friday).
"SERVANT OF PEACE"
After the fighters fired into the air and forced the cars to
stop, they asked the identity of the passengers. Saif al-Islam
replied said he was "Abdelsalam" - a name that means "servant of
peace", according to the fighters, who recognised him.
"The capture presents a challenge to the NTC. If they want
to try Saif then what can they do to make Zintan hand him over?"
said Henry Smith, an analyst with the Control Risks group,
referring to the National Transitional Council which won
international recognition as Libya's new interim government.
Memories are still fresh of the days Muammar Gaddafi's
corpse spent rotting and on public view in the city of Misrata,
another anti-Gaddafi stronghold, as its militia leaders
trumpeted their capture of the fallen leader as part of a drive
to extract power and patronage from the interim authority.
Smith said Saif al-Islam, once seen as a reformer who
engineered his father's rapprochement with the West, appeared to
have been hiding in the desert since fleeing the tribal bastion
of Bani Walid, near Tripoli, in October.
"I'm really surprised that Saif al-Islam has not met the
same fate as his father and his brother," Fawaz Gerges,
professor of international relations at the London School of
Economics, where Saif al-Islam studied, told the BBC.
"The best thing that the new leadership can do is to hand
Saif al-Islam to the International Criminal Court because I
don't believe it really has the resources and the means to try
Saif al-Islam and give him a fair trial."
Asked about the chances of that, he said: "Almost zero." He
said he expected Saif al-Islam to be sentenced to death and
executed. "This is unfortunate for the new Libya," he said.
There was no word of the other official wanted by the ICC,
former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who with France pushed
for foreign military intervention in Libya, joined calls for a
fair trial and offered Libya help in ensuring justice.
"The Libyan government has told us again today that he will
receive a trial in line with international standards, and it is
important that this happens," Cameron said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Ismail Zeitouny and Mahmoud al-Farjani
in Zintan, Ali Shuaib, Alastair Macdonald, Omar Younis, Hisham
El-Dani in Tripoli, Francois Murphy in Benghazi, Erika Solomon
in Beirut, Shaimaa Fayyed in Cairo, Christian Lowe in Algiers,
Peter Apps, Peter Millership, Andrew Heavens and Michael Holden
in London, Nicholas Vinocur in Paris and Gilbert Kreijger in
Amsterdam; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Ralph