POSTED: 03:10 a.m. HST, Nov 19, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 07:00 a.m. HST, Nov 19, 2011
TRIPOLI, Libya » Moammar Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam — the only wanted member of the ousted ruling family to remain at large — was captured Saturday as he traveled with aides in a convoy in Libya's southern desert, Libyan officials said. Thunderous celebratory gunfire shook the Libyan capital as the news spread.
A spokesman for the Libyan fighters who captured him said Seif al-Islam, who has been charged by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, was detained about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of the town of Obari with two aides as he was trying to flee to neighboring Niger. But the country's acting justice minister later said the convoy's destination was not confirmed.
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told The Associated Press that he will travel to Libya next week for talks with the country's transitional government 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, he wants to make sure Seif al-Islam has a fair trial.
"The good news is that Seif al-Islam is arrested, he is alive, and now he will face justice," Ocampo said in an interview in The Hague. "Where and how, we will discuss it."
Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, at 39 the oldest of seven children of Moammar and Safiya Gadhafi, spent years courting Western favor by touting himself as a liberalizing reformer in the autocratic regime but then staunchly backed his father in his brutal crackdown on rebels in the regime's final days.
He had gone underground after Tripoli fell to revolutionary forces in late August and issued audio recordings to try to rally support for his father. He was widely reported to have long been hiding in the besieged town of Bani Walid but escaped before it fell to revolutionary forces.
His capture just over a month after his father was killed leaves only former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi wanted by the ICC, which indicted the three men for in June for unleashing a campaign of murder and torture to suppress the uprising against the Gadhafi regime that broke out in mid-February.
"This is the day of victory, this is the day of liberation, finally the son of the tyrant has been captured," said Mohammed Ali, an engineer, as he celebrated on Tripoli's Martyrs' Square. "Now we are free, now we are free, God is Great."
Libyan state TV posted a photograph purportedly of Seif al-Islam in custody. He is sitting by a bed and holding up three bandaged fingers as a guard looks on, although it could not independently be confirmed where or when the picture was taken or how he was injured.
Other photos showed him wearing brown robes and a turban in the style of ethnic Tuaregs, a nomadic community that spans the desert border area of Niger, Mali, Libya, Algeria and Chad and long fought for his father's regime.
Adel al-Zintani, a spokesman for the revolutionary faction from Zintan, said Seif al-Islam was captured at 4 a.m. after a gunbattle.
"The Zintan revolutionaries who were guarding the southern-most borders of Libya received information two days ago that Seif al-Islam was planning an escape to either Niger or Algeria and they were able to find his location exactly and stop him," al-Zintani said. "He looked tired. He was wearing Tuareg clothing."
The murky circumstances surrounding the deaths of Gadhafi and another son Muatassim, and the decision to lay their bodies out for public viewing drew widespread criticism and raised questions about the commitment of Libya's new rulers to respecting human rights.
Marek Marczynski of Amnesty International urged the governing National Transitional Council to transfer Seif al-Islam to the ICC base in the Netherlands as soon as possible.
"The ICC has an arrest warrant out for him and that is the correct thing to do. He must be brought before a judge as soon as possible," he said. "It matters for the victims. What they need to see is true justice. They need to know the truth about what happened."
A spokesman for the Zintan brigades, Bashir al-Tlayeb, who first announced the capture at a press conference in Tripoli, said the NTC, which took over governing the country after Gadhafi was ousted, would decide where Seif al-Islam would be tried.
"Seif al-Islam was caught with two aides who were trying to smuggle him into Niger," al-Tlayeb said, adding that he had no information about al-Senoussi's whereabouts.
In confirming the capture, however, interim Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagi told The Associated Press that Seif al-Islam was detained closer to Algeria and the convoy's destination was not known.
Seif al-Islam was being held in Zintan but would be transported to Tripoli soon, according to al-Alagi.
The White House said it was aware of the reports but had no immediate comment.
The International Criminal Court had earlier said that it was in indirect negotiations with a son of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi about his possible surrender for trial.
ICC prosecutor Ocampo said jurisdiction should not be hard to determine.
"The rules are, primacy for the national authorities, depending on if they have a case," he said.
But he added that judges at the ICC would have to formally approve a transfer of venue, under international law.
Libya's Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam said the NTC had not taken an official position yet, but in his personal view, Seif al-Islam "is an outlaw and should be tried in front of the Libyan Court, by Libyan people and by Libyan justice."
The international community said the treatment of Seif al-Islam would be an important test for the role of rule of law in post-Gadhafi and key to reconciliation efforts, regardless of where he is tried.
"The Libyan authorities should now ensure that Seif al-Islam is brought to justice in accordance with the principles of due process and in full cooperation with the International Criminal Court," the European Union said in a statement.
Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague called the arrest an important step forward as Libya tries to put its past behind it.
"I welcome the Libyan authorities' commitment to ensure his detention and trial meet international standards," Hague said. "His arrest will allow the Libyan people to move on to the challenge of rebuilding their country."
Associated Press writers Hadeel al-Shalchi in Cairo and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.