The arrest of Muammar Gaddafi’s son and heir apparent Saif al-Islam in the southern desert is a chance for the Zintan fighters to redeem themselves, writes International Editor Lindsey Hilsum.
Libya’s interim justice minister said Saif al-Islam and several bodyguards, but no other senior figures from the ousted administration, had been taken near the town of Obari by fighters based in the mountain town of Zintan.
“We have arrested Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in the Obari area,” Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagy confirmed, adding that the 39-year-old who is wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court at The Hague was not injured.
Saif was arrested as aides attempted to smuggle him out to neighbouring Niger. He told Reuters journalists that he was feeling fine after being captured, adding that the bandages on this right hand were caused by a NATO air strike a month ago. “Air force, air force,” he said when asked. “One month ago”.
Capturing Saif - a chance for redemption
This is their chance for the Zintan to redeem themselves, writes International Editor Lindsey Hilsum. If they treat Saif al Gadaffi humanely – in contrast to how the Misrata brigades treated his father when they captured him – it will boost their image and that of the new Libyan authorities.
Read more: Capturing Saif
The news broke as fighters from Zintan, a powerful faction among the many armed groups currently dominating Libya while the NTC tries to form a new government, started celebrating in Tripoli.
Bashir Thaelba, a Zintan field commander who had called a news conference on another issue, told reporters in the capital that Gaddafi would be held in Zintan until there was a government to hand him over to.
We hope at this historical moment that the future of Libya will be bright. Bashir Thaelba, Zintan field commander
The government is due to be formed within days. “The rebels of Zintan announce that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi has been arrested along with three of his aides today,” Thaelba said in remarks carried on Libyan television.
“We hope at this historical moment that the future of Libya will be bright.”
A spokesman for Libya’s outgoing interim government said on Saturday that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi would be tried in the country rather than being sent to The Hague.
“This is the final chapter of the Libyan drama,” Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam told Reuters. “We will put him on trial in Libya and he will be judged by Libyan law for his crimes.”
Gaddafi, like his late father, was indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague over his alleged role in killing demonstrators after the anti-Gaddafi uprising began in February. But Libyans also want to try him for previous alleged crimes.
Shammam said former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, the remaining Libyan indicted by the ICC who is still on the run, would be found in time. “We will hunt him until we capture him or kill him,” he said.
The government of Libya is on trial. Anything other than due process should not be tolerated. Sir Menzies Campbell
Meanwhile, the European Union urged the Libyan authorities to bring Gaddafi to justice in full cooperation with the ICC. Libya was also warned that the UK will not tolerate the “extra-judicial assassination” of Saif. Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said Libya must prove it deserves its place among “civilised nations” by following “due process” in dealing with Saif.
“The government of Libya is on trial,” Sir Menzies said. “Anything other than due process should not be tolerated”.
“The UK did not commit in Libya to tolerate extra-judicial assassination as happened with his father.”
Gaddafi’s father was killed a month ago on Sunday after being captured in his hometown of Sirte on the coast.
Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed Saif’s arrest. He said: “We stand ready to assist the Libyan government and the ICC to bring Saif al-Islam to justice…His arrest will allow the Libyan people to move on to the challenge of rebuilding their country. The international community stands ready to help and Britain is already providing support and assistance”.