Seif al-Islam’s capture reflects Libya’s division
ZINTAN / TRIPOLI
Seif al-Islam is seen in the custody of revolutionary fighters in Zintan after his capture. Libya’s new leaders have said they will try Gadhafi’s son at home and not hand him over to the International Criminal Court. Revolutionary fighters and onlookers (inset) gather around the aircraft that transported Seif al-Islam Gadhafi to Zintan. REUTERS photo
The decision by Seif al-Islam Gadhafi’s captors to take him to a secret location in the remote Libyan mountain town of Zintan rather than the capital Tripoli reflects a wider problem of powerful local militia and a weak central government.
“He will stay here because it is a safe place for him,” the head of Zintan’s military council Osama al-Juwali told Reuters, adding he would remain for the foreseeable future. “I also think that Seif should be tried in Zintan,” he said. Three months after Moammar Gadhafi fled the capital, Libya’s cabinet has yet to be announced and its prime minister is dithering, under pressure from myriad rebel commanders all wanting a piece of the political pie. Even after Gadhafi’s fall 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 Zintan’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. Mahmoud 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, Associated Press reported. 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.
Ex-intel chief arrested
Some key posts are considered to be crucial for Libya’s future. The focus is expected to be on the defense ministry, which controls the array of militias on the streets. One official working for the National Transitional Council (NTC) said that the group from Zintan might even secure that ministry thanks to holding Seif al-Islam.
Meanwhile, Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam said ex-Intelligence Minister Abdullah al-Senoussi was captured alive Nov. 20 by revolutionary fighters from a southern region called Fazan, not far from where Gadhafi’s son was seized Nov. 19 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 70 kilometers south of the desert city of Sebha, said fighter Abdullah al-Sughayer. Though they are wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Libya will likely seek to try both men at home if they are able to overcome the power struggle. Libyan prime minister furthermore said yesterday that the formation of a new Libyan government will be made public today.