Seif Islam Kadafi captured in southern Libya
He was the reformist face of the Moammar Kadafi regime, a cosmopolitan intellectual who fraternized with London high society, rehabilitated Libyan dissidents and pledged to bring democracy to his father’s long-repressed domain.
But he was also an ambitious heir apparent and fierce defender of his father’s rule, vowing that “rivers of blood” would flow when “Arab Spring"-inspired protesters took to Libya’s streets early this year.
Now Seif Islam Kadafi finds himself in the hands of those protesters-turned-rulers, and they will probably show no mercy for this contradictory figure who both embraced and rejected his father’s dictatorial ways.
Captured Saturday in Libya’s southern Saharan hinterlands, Seif Islam was the final Kadafi to be accounted for, and the first formally arrested by the fledgling government, embarrassed by the apparent summary executions last month of his father and a widely despised brother, Mutassim. Their bodies were left to rot for several days in a cold-storage room as curious Libyans lined up to have a look.
Seif Islam avoided that fate, despite the agitated Libyans who mobbed the aircraft transporting him after his captors flew him to the former rebel stronghold of Zintan in the western mountains.
But officials said the 39-year-old, shown on Libyan television wearing the flowing desert robes and elaborate headdress favored by nomadic tribesmen and his fashion-conscious father, finally was whisked away, saving the provisional government from having to explain how another Kadafi had died in custody.
Libya’s interim authorities vowed a lawful trial, even though the newly liberated nation lacks a functioning government and judicial system.
Questions immediately arose about who would hold Kadafi and where he would face justice.
The International Criminal Court, based in the Dutch city of The Hague, also has an arrest warrant pending for alleged crimes against humanity committed during the government’s crackdown on protesters. But Libyan rebels and their representatives have insisted that any Kadafi captured should face justice in Libya.
“We assure Libyans and the world that Seif al Islam will receive a fair trial … under fair legal processes which our own people had been deprived of for the last 40 years,” Libya’s prime minister-designate, Abdel-Rahim al-Keeb, told reporters in Zintan.
Few Libyans and outside experts seemed to doubt an eventual verdict of guilty and a sentence of death for a man seen as channeling his father’s autocratic rule.
A public trial could nonetheless be cathartic for Libyans, who have to remake their nation after a civil war that left several cities destroyed and at least 30,000 dead, according to official estimates.
Libyan authorities would also like to know about vast funds that Seif Islam is said to have spirited away somewhere in foreign bank accounts.
The new prime minister is scheduled to take office Tuesday, and Kadafi’s case looms as one more challenge for an administration faced with creating a workable government virtually from scratch.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, called the arrest “good news” and indicated that he would be headed to Libya this week. Some observers suggested that the ICC could eventually assist in a Libyan trial or serve as a consultant, lending its expertise and authority to the proceedings.
Forces loyal to the new government flew the prize captive to Zintan in a Russian cargo plane after his arrest early Saturday near the southern oil town of Awbari. Some reports indicated that Kadafi may have been trying to escape to the neighboring nation of Niger, where a brother, Saadi, has found refuge.
Acting on a tip, militiamen intercepted two vehicles carrying Kadafi and four others through the desert, according to a Reuters account. Kadafi was detained without incident, authorities said.
The militiamen were from Zintan, a hub of the rebellion that overthrew his father’s regime, and a town heavily damaged by government shelling during the conflict.
Zintan-based brigades remain among the most organized forces in post-Kadafi Libya, where a patchwork of well-armed regional militias wields power in a nation that has only a small formal military and police force. The rival militias have sometimes clashed.
Where and when Kadafi would be turned over to the embryonic central government was not clear.
The Zintan militiamen “will keep him in peace, take care of him,” the prime minister-designate told reporters. “He will be treated as any human being with respect. He will get his day in court.”
His comment seemed designed to quell concern that Kadafi would end up like his father and younger brother, who were initially captured by militiamen from the coastal city of Misurata.
But, just as Misurata brigades refused to hand over the bodies of the elder Kadafi and his son, the Zintan forces may feel that the live Kadafi is a chip worth holding on to in the tumult of post-revolutionary Libya.
The arrest of Seif Islam — the name means Sword of Islam, though he is, like his late father, decidedly secular — came after months of speculation about where Kadafi’s second-oldest son had gone.
He was last seen publicly in late August outside Tripoli’s posh Rixos Hotel, where the regime housed foreign journalists, as rebels were overrunning the city. The entire Kadafi family eventually fled the besieged capital.
He was later reported to have taken refuge in the pro-Kadafi tribal bastion of Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, but apparently fled the city last month as insurgents finally broke through. Some reports had said he was under the protection of nomadic Tuareg tribesmen, long loyal to his father.
Kadafi attended the London School of Economics and was also an amateur artist who sponsored exhibitions of his desert landscapes. Western businessmen seeking contracts lined up to see the man charged with opening up Libya’s socialist economy.
“We need democracy, we need elections,” Seif Islam told the pan-Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera after protests broke out in February, inspired by Arab Spring uprisings in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt.
Still, he denounced the demonstrators as “terrorists” and warned in another interview that security forces would defend his father’s regime to “the last bullet,” adding, “We are not Tunisia or Egypt.”
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get the day's top news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.