LONDON (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi’s eight children, whose pampered lives ranged from security chief and U.N. goodwill ambassador to playboy and professional footballer, earned reputations for extravagance, violence and bizarre behavior almost equaling their father‘s.
Amid the chaos of war, three now appear to be dead like the deposed Libyan leader himself, four are scattered in exile and one remains on the run, their lives of privilege disrupted or ended by the collapse of Gaddafi senior’s 42-year rule.
Jealousy and greed long poisoned relations within the family but when rebellion broke out in February, Gaddafi’s seven sons and one daughter closed ranks around their father, breaking off lives that in many cases had been lived abroad.
A leaked U.S. diplomatic report from 2009 noted that “internecine strife is nothing new for the famously fractious family.” Several Libyan officials lost their jobs or were forced into exile after falling foul of family members.
Perhaps the best internationally known son, Saif al-Islam, is also the most elusive. A senior official of the National Transitional Council (NTC) said on Friday that he was fleeing south from the last Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte toward Libya’s border with Niger, where another son has already taken refuge.
Al Arabiya TV quoted NTC officials as saying Saif al-Islam had been captured near Misrata but this was unconfirmed.
English-speaking Saif al-Islam, who studied at the London School of Economics and latterly embarrassed the institution due to his close links with his alma mater, had been considered a possible heir-apparent to his father.
His rhetoric during the rebellion forced analysts to rethink views he was a reformer. After protesters took over eastern Libya and rioted in Tripoli, he threatened dire consequences, saying if the protests did not stop, “instead of mourning 84 (people killed), we will be mourning hundreds of thousands.”
Once seen as the acceptable face of the Libyan regime, Saif al-Islam, like his father, was wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The ICC reported that Saif al-Islam had been arrested as Tripoli fell, but shortly afterwards he appeared in front of the international media in the capital to disprove those reports.
Three sons -- Mo‘tassim, Khamis and Saif al-Arab -- appear to be dead, like their father who was killed on Thursday.
Once national security adviser, Mo‘tassim died on Thursday near his father’s hometown of Sirte. His body, naked from the waist up, went on display in the city of Misrata, which endured a long bombardment by Gaddafi forces costing many lives.
Local people jostled around the corpse, laid on blankets on the floor and covered up to the waist by a blue plastic sheet, to take pictures on their cell phones. A doctor who examined his body said he had apparently died after his father.
Khamis played a leading role in Gaddafi’s effort to crush the revolt as commander of the 32nd Brigade, one of Libya’s best equipped units. As a boy he was wounded in a 1986 U.S. bombing of Tripoli and was reported killed at least three times during this year’s conflict. However, a Syrian-based television station that supported Gaddafi confirmed earlier this month that he had died in fighting southeast of Tripoli on August 29.
Saif al-Arab was killed in a NATO bombing raid on Tripoli. As a four-year-old, he was also wounded in the air strike on his father’s compound ordered by U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
The spoilt son of an indulgent father, he studied in Germany and was reported to have been involved in a fight at a Munich nightclub with a bouncer who tried to throw out his female companion after she began to undress on the dance floor.
In U.S. diplomatic cables, Saif al-Arab was said to have spent “much time partying.”
The remaining children appear to be safe for the moment at least in neighboring countries.
Saadi fled to Niger in September, where the government has said he would not be extradited if there was a possibility he would not get a fair trial or risked getting the death penalty.
Saadi, who attempted to negotiate with the NTC in late August after its fighters swept through Tripoli, had a brief and undistinguished career with several Italian soccer clubs and also captained the Libyan national team, whose coach was once fired for not selecting him.
Three other children are in Algeria. The government there said it had given refuge to Gaddafi’s wife in August with daughter Aisha and sons Hannibal and Mohammed.
Aisha, who studied in France and spoke out in defense of her father after the fighting started, cultivated a glamorous image that led some to describe her as the Claudia Schiffer of North Africa. A lawyer, she later joined a team that unsuccessfully defended overthrown Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.
However, her role as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations did not survive the popular uprising in February.
Gaddafi’s eldest son Mohammed headed Libya’s Olympic Committee and was effectively in charge of Libya’s telephone network, which was used to eavesdrop on anti-Gaddafi activists and put them in jail.
Hannibal is best known for an incident in a Geneva hotel which caused a diplomatic row. In 2008 Swiss police arrested Hannibal and his pregnant wife on charges of mistreating two domestic employees. They were soon released and the charges dropped but within days, Libya withdrew millions of dollars from Swiss bank accounts and halted oil exports to Switzerland.
In Libya, two Swiss expatriates were not allowed to leave the country for two years. Libyan officials said their case had nothing to do with Hannibal’s arrest but supporters of the businessmen said they were innocent victims of a Libyan vendetta against Switzerland.