Jubilation erupts across Libya after Gadhafi's son arrested
Government facing pressure to try Saif al-Islam before handing him over to the International Criminal Court, which accuses him of crimes against humanity.
Muammar Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam has been captured, scared and with just a few thousand dollars, in the Libyan desert by fighters who vowed to hold him in the mountain town of Zintan until there was a government to hand him over to.
The fighters claimed his capture as gunfire and car horns expressed jubilation across Libya at the seizure of the British-educated 39-year-old who a year ago was set for a dynastic succession to rule the oil-producing desert state.
Saif al-Islam, who vowed to die fighting but was taken without firing a shot, was arrested overnight, officials said, and he was not injured during his seizure - unlike his father, who was killed a month ago on Sunday after being captured in his home town.
"At the beginning he was very scared. He thought we would kill him," Ahmed Ammar, one of his captors, told Reuters.
Saif al-Islam told Reuters that he was okay and that his hand was bandaged due to wounds sustained in a NATO air strike a month ago.
Asked by Reuters on the Soviet-made cargo plane which flew him to the town of Zintan if he was feeling all right, Gadhafi said simply: "Yes."
The Zintan fighters, who make up one of the powerful militia factions holding ultimate power in a country still without a government, said they planned to keep him in Zintan, until they could hand him over to the authorities.
Prime minister-designate Abdurrahim El-Keib is scheduled to form a government by Tuesday, and the fate of Saif al-Islam will be an early test of its authority. Libyans want to try him at home before, possibly, handing him over to the International Criminal Court which accuses him of crimes against humanity.
The European Union urged Libyan authorities to ensure Saif al-Islam was brought to justice in cooperation with the ICC whose prosecutor is heading for Libya soon to discuss where and how the legal process will take place.
Libyans believe Saif al-Islam holds the keys in his head to billions of dollars of public money amassed by the Gadhafi family but when captured, his captors said, they found only a few thousand dollars and a cache of rifles in seized vehicles.
Ammar told Reuters that his unit of 15 men in three vehicles, acting on a tip-off about a possible high-profile fugitive had intercepted two cars carrying Gadhafi and four others in the desert about 70 km from the small oil town of Obari at about 1:30 a.m. on Friday.
"We have arrested Saif al-Islam Gadhafi in (the) Obari area," Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagy told Reuters, adding that the younger Gadhafi was not injured.
After the fighters fired in the air and ground to halt the cars, they asked the identity of the passengers. The man in charge replied that he was "Abdelsalam" - a name that happens to mean 'servant of peace'. But the fighters quickly recognized Saif al-Islam and seized him without a fight.
The fighters put him at ease and he accepted that he would be taken to Zintan, a town in the western mountains south of Tripoli that was a stronghold of anti-Gadhafi rebels.
A crowd of hundreds thronged the runway in Zintan, preventing his captors removing the prisoner for an hour. Some people tried to board the plane but were held back by the fighters, who all came from Zintan.
Saif al-Islam appeared relatively at ease and was not handcuffed as he sat on a bench at the rear of the plane. Wearing traditional robes with a scarf pulled over his face, Saif al-Islam had a heavy black beard and wore his rimless spectacle. His thumb, index and another finger were heavily bandaged from the wounds sustained in the NATO strike.
Muammar Gadhafi's beating, abuse and ultimate death in the custody of former rebel fighters was an embarrassment to the previous transitional government. Officials in Tripoli said they were determined to handle his son's case with more order.
"The capture presents a challenge to the NTC. If they want to try Saif then what can they do to make Zintan hand him over"? said Henry Smith, an analyst with the Control Risks group, referring to the National Transitional Council which won international recognition as Libya's new authority.
"They do not have the capacity to use coercive means so do they offer the town the coveted security portfolios in the forthcoming cabinet? If so, then to which of the Zintan militias? They may leave his fate to Zintanis but then where does that leave Libya's embryonic judicial system? This is an acid test of the NTC's authority."
Memories are still fresh of the days Gadhafi's father's corpse spent rotting and on public view in the city of Misrata, another rebel stronghold, as its militia leaders trumpeted their capture of the fallen leader as part of their campaign to extract power and patronage from the new interim government.
A fighter from an anti-Gadhafi unit, the Khaled bin al-Waleed Brigade, which said it seized him in the wilderness near the oil town of Obari told Free Libya television: "We got a tip he had been staying there for the last month. "They couldn't get away because we had a good plan,"
Wisam Dughaly added, saying Saif al-Islam had been using a 4x4 vehicle: "He was not hurt and will be taken safely for trial so Libyans will be able to prosecute him and get back their money. "We will take him to Zintan for safekeeping to keep him alive until a government is formed and then we will hand him over as soon as possible," Dughaly said. He added that Saif al-Islam, once seen as a reformer who engineered his father's rapprochement with the West, appeared to have been hiding out in the desert since fleeing the tribal bastion of Bani Walid, near Tripoli, in October.
"I'm really surprised that Saif al-Islam has not met the same fate as his father and his brother," Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, told BBC TV. "The best thing that the new leadership can do is to hand Saif al-Islam to the International Criminal Court because I don't believe it really has the resources and the means to try Saif al-Islam and give him a fair trial."
Asked of the chances of that, he said "Almost zero." He said he expected him to get the death penalty and be executed in Libya. "This is unfortunate for the new Libya," he said.
Justice Minister Alagy said he was in touch with the ICC over how to deal with Gadhafi, either at home or The Hague. He told Al Jazeera: "We Libyans do not oppose the presence of international monitors to monitor the trial procedures that will take place for the symbols of the former regime."
Other Libyan officials have said a trial in Libya should first address killings, repression and theft of public funds over the four decades of the elder Gadhafi's personal rule. After that, the ICC might try him accusing him of giving orders to kill unarmed demonstrators after February's revolt. There was no word of the other official wanted by the ICC, former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi.
The ICC said on Saturday it had received confirmation of the arrest of Saif al-Islam from Libya's Ministry of Justice. "We trust that the Libyan authorities and the International Criminal Court will ensure that justice runs its course, so that the new Libya can be built on the rule of law and respect for human rights," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said.
In June, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Muammar Gadhafi, Saif al-Islam and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi on charges of crimes against humanity after the UN Security Council referred the Libyan crisis to the court in February.