x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Associates tell of Qaddafi clan's final days

Saif Al Islam made increasingly frantic calls to his father before fleeing Bani Walid, whereas Qaddafi 'underestimated' the situation, say captured loyalists.

THE HAGUE // Niger has an obligation to cooperate in bringing to justice Libyan fugitives Saif Al Islam, Muammar Qaddafi's son, and Abdullah Al Senussi, his former intelligence chief, wanted by the International Criminal Court, a court spokesman in The Hague said yesterday.

"There is definitely an obligation on Niger to cooperate as it is a state party to the Rome Statute", the ICC's founding document, said Fadi El Abdallah.

But he dismissed media reports suggesting either man wanted to hand himself over to the ICC, saying he had "no information or confirmation".

"It is something we would have to follow up with the Council," Mr El Abdallah told the AFP news agency, referring to Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC).

Saif Al Islam was on Tuesday poised to cross into Niger along with Mr Al Senussi, a Tuareg official said.

One reason Saif Al Islam has not been captured by NTC forces could come down to fear. He had it while his father did not.

Saif Al Islam spent his final hours in Bani Walid, Libya, in a frantic state while his father read, jotted down notes or brewed tea on a coal stove, captured Qaddafi loyalists say.

"I feel sorry for [Qaddafi] because he underestimated the situation," said Mansour Dao, a member of the Qaddafi clan and former chief bodyguard. "He could have left and gotten out of the country and lived a happy life."

On the day of Qaddafi's capture, a loyalist convoy, including an olive-green Toyota Landcruiser carrying the former Libyan leader and Mr Dao, sped out of Sirte to try to escape. But the convoy was hit by a Nato air strike. Qaddafi and Mr Dao were wounded and captured, and Qaddafi died in unclear circumstances later that day.

"He was not leading the battle," Mr Dao said of Qaddafi. "His sons did that. He did not plan anything or think about any plan."

Three days before Qaddafi was captured, Saif Al Islam called his father frequently on the telephone and increasingly feared being hit by a mortar as he tried to escape from Bani Walid, an officer who had been with him says.

"He was nervous. He had a Thuraya [satellite phone] and he called his father many times," said Sharif Al Senussi, a lieutenant in Qaddafi's army who was part of Saif's security team in Bani Walid until the city fell on October 17.

"He repeated to us: 'Don't tell anyone where I am. Don't let them spot me.' He was afraid of mortars. He seemed confused."

Mr Al Senussi spoke at a makeshift jail inside Bani Walid's airport where he has been kept by NTC forces since his capture last week.

Mr Al Senussi's identity was confirmed by Omar Al Mukhtar, a commander of anti-Qaddafi forces in northern Bani Walid whose brigade is in charge of the jail and the airport.

Saif Al Islam, who was long seen as the western-friendly face of Libya, is the only one of Qaddafi's sons still unaccounted for.

Mr Mukhtar and Mr Al Senussi, both of whom were interviewed separately in Bani Walid on Tuesday, said Saif Al Islam slipped out of the city around the day it fell to anti-Qaddafi forces.

"When his convoy left Bani Walid it was hit by an air strike but he escaped alive," said Mr Al Senussi, who is not related to Abdullah Al Senussi, Qaddafi's former intelligence chief.

An NTC official said on Monday that Qaddafi's fugitive son was near Libya's borders with Niger and Algeria and was planning to flee the country using a forged passport.

Mr Al Mukhtar, the commander, said: "I and my unit were chasing him on October 19. Then Nato struck his convoy. He was in an armoured vehicle and survived and someone helped him to escape. We searched that area but we lost him there."

Mr Al Senussi said he was in charge of communication among various pro-Qaddafi brigades in Bani Walid, and fought until the last day.

He said he saw Saif frequently until he escaped from Bani Walid, and attended many meetings with him.

"We were not friends but we knew each other. We had a professional relationship," said Mr Al Senussi, who was clad in military fatigues. "We did not really listen carefully to what he said towards the end. We were too busy fighting."

He added that Moussa Ibrahim - the face of Qaddafi's regime and his chief spokesman - had also been there until recently but managed to escape separately days before Bani Walid fell.

Bani Walid residents said Saif had been holed up in a safe house in a neighbourhood called Al Taboul - a scattering of mudbrick houses cascading into a rocky valley - before his final push out of the city last week.

Unlike central parts of Bani Walid, no NTC flags flew on rooftops and angry-looking residents made it clear to outsiders appearing on their doorstep that they were not welcome.

"We have not seen him [Saif] around here since the rebels arrived," said one teenager who refused to give his name. "Before we sometimes saw his vehicles pass by. We have seen him around here."

* Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Associated Press