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Kadafi son Seif Islam reported captured in Libya

November 19, 2011 |  5:18 am

REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Forces loyal to Libya’s provisional government have captured Seif Islam Kadafi, the fugitive son and onetime heir apparent of Libya’s late ruler, Moammar Kadafi, according to news agency accounts from Libya.

A militia commander said at a news conference that Seif Islam was caught with a pair of aides near the southern Libyan city of Sabha, some 400 miles south of Tripoli, the Associated Press reported.

The prize captive has been taken to the Libyan city of Zintan, home of one of Libya’s largest revolutionary brigades, said the commander, Bashir Tlayeb, the AP reported.

The AP reported that celebratory gunfire resounded in the Libyan capital as word spread of the arrest of the only member of the Kadafi family still at large. Libyan TV aired a photo that purports to show Seif Islam in custody, sitting by a bed and holding up three bandaged fingers as a guard looks on, the AP said.

The capture of Kadafi's most prominent offspring has been reported on several previous occasions and proved to be erroneous.

Seif Islam is wanted by the Libyan government and the International Criminal Court, which has accused him of crimes against humanity in connection with the former Libyan regime’s crackdown on protesters.

His reported capture could pose a dilemma for Libya’s new rulers, who will have to decide whether to try him in Libya or turn him over to the ICC.

The ICC had previously indicated that Seif Islam was in touch with mercenaries helping him escape to a country where the international court’s jurisdiction was not recognized. The court had been trying through intermediaries to arrange for his surrender.

The  status of Seif Islam had been a mystery for months, but his whereabouts  became a source of intense speculation since his father and a younger brother, Muatassim, were killed in the decisive battle for Surt, Kadafi’s hometown and final safe haven.

Seif Islam was rumored to have been under the protection of Tuareg nomads in Libya’s vast Saharan hinterlands. Reports indicate that he had fled south from another former Kadafi stronghold, the desert city of Bani Walid, which, like Surt, was also overrun last month by forces loyal to the new government.

Some reports indicated that Seif Islam had fled to neighboring Niger, where his younger brother, Saadi, has been given refuge. But the government of Niger has indicated it would turn Seif Islam over to the international court if he appeared there.

Seif Islam was last seen publicly in late August at Tripoli’s Rixos Hotel, where the regime housed foreign journalists, as rebels were overrunning the Libyan capital. The entire Kadafi family eventually fled the besieged capital.

The urbane, English-speaking Seif Islam, 39, is a European-educated intellectual and patron of the arts who moved in affluent circles of British society while studying at the London School of Economics. He served a key role in his father’s regime, fashioning himself as a liberal reformer and interlocutor with the West as Tripoli moved to improve relations with its former adversaries.

He was widely viewed as a likely successor to his father, a post he was said to have eagerly desired, despite rivalries with other brothers in the sometimes-fractious Kadafi family.

In Libya, he was prominent in efforts to integrate former Islamic rebels back into society and gain compensation for families of some 1,200 political prisoners reported killed in a 1996 massacre at Tripoli’s notorious Abu Salim prison.

But when the revolt against his father’s regime erupted in February, Seif Islam responded with belligerent threats against the protesters. He staunchly supported the iron-fisted crackdown of his father’s regime.

Seif Islam is the last of Kadafi’s children to be publicly unaccounted for.

Along with Mutassim, two other Kadafi sons, Khamis and Saif Arab, were reported to have been killed by western air strikes during the war. Two other brothers, Hannibal and Mohammed, fled to Algeria, along with their sister, Aisha, and Kadafi’s second wife, Safiya.

Seif Islam's capture would leave one major fugitive from the Kadafi regime, Abdullah Senussi, Kadafi's brother-in-law and longtime intelligence chief and principal enforcer. Senussi is rumored to have fled to central Africa via southern Libya's vast Saharan stretches. Like Seif Islam, Senussi is also wanted by the international court for crimes against humanity.

-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: Seif Islam Kadafi speaks at a news conference in Tripoli in August. Credit: Sabri Elmhedwi / EPA