Libya’s New Gov’t: We’ll Try Gaddafi’s Son and One-Time Heir at Home
November 20, 2011 - 5:34 PM
Zintan, Libya (AP) – Libya's new leaders said Sunday they will try Muammar Gaddafi’s son at home and not hand him over to the International Criminal Court where he's charged with crimes against humanity. The government also announced the capture of the toppled regime's intelligence minister, who is also wanted by the court.
In one of several emerging complications, however, the former rebel faction that captured Seif al-Islam Gaddafi a day earlier is refusing to deliver him to national authorities in Tripoli, raising concern over whether he will get a proper trial and demonstrating the interim leaders' weak hold over their fractured nation.
In the capital, Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam said ex-Intelligence Minister Abdullah al-Senoussi was captured alive on Sunday by revolutionary fighters from a southern region called Fazan, not far from where Gaddafi's son was seized on Saturday while trying to flee to neighboring Niger.
Fighters tracking al-Senoussi for two days caught up with him at his sister's house in Deerat al-Shati, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) south of the desert city of Sebha, said fighter Abdullah al-Sughayer. There were few other immediate details on his capture, and it was not clear whether his captors would also resist turning him over to Tripoli.
Though they are wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Libya will likely seek to try both men at home.
Speaking earlier in the day, before al-Senoussi's capture, the information minister said Seif al-Islam, the ousted Libyan leader's one-time heir apparent, must be tried in Libya even though the country's new leaders have yet to establish a court system.
"It is only fair for the Libyan people that he is tried here. ... Seif al-Islam committed crimes against the Libyan people," Shammam told The Associated Press.
"The ICC is just a secondary court, and the people of Libya will not allow Seif al-Islam to be tried outside," Shammam said.
The ICC indicted the two men along with Gaddafi in June for unleashing a campaign of murder and torture to suppress the uprising against the Gaddafi regime that broke out in mid-February.
Al-Senoussi, Gaddafi's brother-in-law, was also one of six Libyans convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison in France for the 1989 bombing of a French passenger over Niger that killed all 170 people on board.
ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said Sunday that Libya would have to convincingly lay out its arguments in what is called a "challenge of admissibility" if it wanted to try the two men at home instead of sending them to The Hague court.
"The issue is that there is already a case before the (ICC) court," he said. "Now Libya has a legal obligation under international law to present a challenge to say: 'We have this suspect and he will be dealt with under our national laws.'"
"... They will need to show that they have a serious, genuine legal system capable of functioning fairly in this case," he said.
Seif al-Islam, who was once the face of reform in Libya and who led his father's drive to emerge from pariah status over the last decade, was captured by fighters from the small western mountain town of Zintan who had tracked him to the desert in the south of the country.
He was then flown to Zintan, 85 miles (150 kilometers) southwest of Tripoli, where he remains in a secret location.
On Sunday, the fighters holding Seif al-Islam posted a video on YouTube of him saying an injury to his hand was the result of a NATO airstrike a month ago that struck his convoy in Wadi Zamzam, about 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli. He said 26 people were killed in the strike.
Photos of him with three fingers of his right hand in bandages had raised questions about whether he was mistreated by his captors.
"The agreement is that I receive medical treatment here in Zintan because there is a medical team and they have the necessary anesthesia for an operation," he said.
In the video, he appeared in good health and was dressed in brown robes and a turban in the style of ethnic Tuaregs.
He seemed confident, even referring to those holding him prisoner as "brothers and family."
"There is no problem. We are talking and dialoguing and we have much to talk about," he said.
The faction of rebel fighters from the western mountains formed one of the key forces against Gadhafi's regime during the six-month civil war.
Even after Gaddafi's fall in August and after his capture and killing in October, Libya's numerous and sometime competing rebel factions have refused to disarm, raising fears of new violence and instability.
"We have priority over Seif al-Islam _ we caught him, and we were the forefront leaders in this revolution," said Tahir al-Turki, head of the small town's local council, explaining why he would not be sent to the capital.
"He will be safer with us in Zintan. We don't know who will take him or deal with him in Tripoli," he said.
That position shows how powerful regional factions backed by bands of armed fighters are able to act autonomously, even on issues of the highest national interest.
Shammam, the information minister, played down suggestions that a power struggle was brewing over the high-value prisoner or that the position of local officials was undermining the authority of the national leadership.
He said the national leadership had no objection to keeping Seif al-Islam in Zintan until a trial can be organized, but that the small town was not capable of organizing and holding the trial itself.
"If you catch a criminal in Texas, you're not going to bring him to Washington, are you?" Shammam told the AP.
Authorities in the National Transitional Council would also likely face challenges in organizing a trial.
Libya, under the elder Gaddafi's 42-year rule, had intentionally weak state institutions and a government that barely existed. Gaddafi, who held no title, had ultimate authority and did not want the development of any other power centers that might challenge him.
As a result, a capable court system, like other state bodies, must be built from scratch.
The International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told the AP Saturday that he will travel to Libya on Monday for talks with the NTC on where the trial will take place.
Ocampo said that while national governments have the first right to try their own citizens for war crimes, his primary goal was to ensure Seif al-Islam has a fair trial.
International human rights groups have called for Seif al-Islam to be quickly sent to the court in The Hague, Netherlands, citing the apparent killings in custody of his father and brother Muatassim on Oct. 20 as "particular cause for concern."
Meanwhile, new details emerged about Seif al-Islam's capture in which fighters swarmed a two-car convoy in the south of the country that some officials said was on its way to neighboring Niger. The car carrying him got stuck in the sand while trying to escape.
Al-Ajami al-Etery, who led the operation, said Seif al-Islam tried to hide his features by throwing sand on his face when he stepped out of his car.
"He said his name was Abdel-Salam and he pretended to be a shepherd, but we found him out and arrested him," he told the AP.
(Al-Shalchi reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Toby Sterling in Amsterdam contributed to this report.)
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