Saif Gaddafi, who rebels said they had captured, has made a public appearance with frenzied supporters in Tripoli, saying that forces loyal to his father have “broken the back of the rebels”.
Saif, Muammar’s heir apparent, visited the Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists are staying to declare that the government was winning the battle against the rebels.
He took journalists to his father’s Bab al-Aziziyah stronghold. Television footage showed Saif smiling, waving and shaking hands with supporters, as well as holding his arms aloft and making the V for victory sign.
“We broke the back of the rebels. It was a trap. We gave them a hard time, so we are winning,” Saif said.
“Take up arms today, take up arms today,” Saif told loyalists waiting to be given weapons. “Inshallah (God willing) we will attack the rats today,” he said to cheers.
He claimed Tripoli was under government control and that he did not care about the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court seeking him and his father for crimes against humanity.
Gaddafi himself has not been seen in public for several weeks before the rebels arrived in the capital at the weekend. But when asked if his father was safe and well in Tripoli, Saif told journalists: “Of course.”
We broke the back of the rebels. It was a trap – Saif Gaddafi
Saif’s arrest had been reported both by rebels and the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague and his appearance before the foreign media once again raised questions as to the rebels’ credibility, following a catalogue of similarly erroneous claims.
The ICC has since said it had never received official confirmation from the Libyan rebels’ council that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Muammar Gaddafi, had been captured.
“There was no official confirmation from the National Transitional Council,” ICC official Fadi el-Abdallah said. “Different answers were given. That was a little ambiguous.”
He added that statements from both the ICC and the prosecutor on Monday said they had received information about the arrest but that they were trying to confirm this.
Another of Gaddafi’s sons, Khamis, has twice been claimed to have been killed by rebel fighters, and twice he has emerged alive in the days following.
In March, it was incorrectly claimed that he was killed in a suicide air mission on his barracks.
A Libyan air force pilot crashed his jet into the Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli in a kamikaze attack, and Khamis was alleged to have died of burns in hospital.
On 5 August, rebels again claimed that Khamis had perished in a Nato air attack in Libya’s western city of Zlitan which killed 32 people. And again he appeared on television days later. Widespread reports on Monday said Khamis was leading his troops in the direction of central Tripoli.
And on Monday, news organisation Al Jazeera quoted unnamed sources who believed two bodies found could be those of Khamis and Gaddafi’s intelligence chief Abdallah Senussi.
Rebels have also claimed that Saif’s brothers Mohammed and Saadi have been captured, although there is no way of verifying the information.