20 Nov 2011

Saif Gaddafi’s fear of the mob exposed in recording

As a mob awaits him on the runway, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi veers between fear of being lynched and bravado at meeting the same fate as his father, a taped conversation with his captors reveals.

Saif Gaddafi captured (Image: Reuters)

Saif al-Islam, for years a pro-Western reformer, said little to the Reuters journalists also on board the Libyan air force plane bound for his captors’ mountain stronghold yesterday.

An audio recording however, picked up some of his conversations soon after the plane touched down in the town of Zintan, south of Tripoli.

I’m staying here. They’ll empty their guns into me the second I go out there. Saif Gaddafi

Having spent most of the flight staring out of the window with his back to the other passengers, Saif, dressed in flowing Tuareg robes and traditional desert turban, spoke out as a crowd surrounded the plane after landing.

“I’m staying here. They’ll empty their guns into me the second I go out there,” he said as hundreds of men thronged round the aircraft, fired in the air in celebration and climbed on the fuselage, even trying to prise the prise a door open.

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His reluctance to disembark was hardly surprising a month after his father was captured by revolutionary fighters, beaten, abused and killed.

But it was in stark contrast to his aggressive posture during Libya’s civil war, when he called the fighters who eventually toppled his father “rats” and promised to crush their rebellion.

“I knew it. I knew that there would be a big crowd,” he said, peeking through curtains at the jubilant Zintanis before recoiling with apparent terror. His guards tried to assure him word of his capture had not leaked.

“If I knew this was what would happen, I should have rammed my head through the window,” the 39-year-old added, referring back to the moment when he was caught in the early hours, in a car.

Saif Gaddafi on the plane (Image: Reuters)

Between such bouts of fear, while the crowd outside chanted “God is greatest”, the son of Gaddafi seemed to regain his mettle. Shortly after saying he expected to be shot on sight, he said he was not afraid of being killed. “I have no problem with that,” he said.

Later he seemed to express concern for the safety of his four companions, saying he would rather wait on the tarmac for things to calm down before leaving.

“I’d rather we stayed an hour or two and left safely so that none of the people with me get hurt,” he said. His plane eventually waited on the runway for three hours before he was taken to a safe house in Zintan, exposed briefly to a crowd of people trying to slap him as he left the aircraft.

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Although he clearly seemed to fear for his life and those of his men, Saif al-Islam also seemed worried about the dangers of passive smoking, and at one point seemed torn between the need to keep the mob out and to get fresh air into the plane.

When men in the plane lit up cigarettes, Saif al-Islam told them they were putting his life at risk: “The plane’s sealed and we’ll suffocate,” he said. “We’re going to choke to death.”

When one of the others suggested opening the door for ventilation, however, he appeared to think the armed crowd banging on the walls posed a more immediate threat to his health: “I don’t need fresh air, man.”