Saif al-Islam just a ‘helpless criminal’ waiting for trial

Muammar Gaddafi’s once-powerful son Saif al-Islam is now just a “helpless criminal” in the Libyan hill town of Zintan where he can stay until he goes on trial, officials and town residents say.

“For Zintan he is just a helpless criminal. He is not a danger. We have no problem in keeping him here and we can hold him until his trial begins if it is better for Libya,” said Ibrahim Turki, the National Transitional Council’s (NTC) health coordinator in Zintan.

“The Libyan authorities will decide his fate,” he said.

Residents of Zintan, a southern Libyan town now famous for its high-profile captive, said al-Islam was being moved regularly from one secret location to another to ensure his safety and protect him from the brutal end faced by his father.

On October 20, Gaddafi was lynched by his captors in Libya’s western city of Misrata. Leaked footage of the deposed leader’s final moments showed his bloodied, limp body being hauled onto the back of a pick-up truck as dozens of frenzied gunmen fired in air.

Global condemnation
Gaddafi’s death triggered widespread global condemnation and forced Libya’s new rulers to launch an investigation into the circumstances of his killing.

Some Zintan residents said they initially believed al-Islam would also face a violent death but are now confident he will likely live long enough to go on trial.

“We were initially worried that he may face the same fate as his father. But he is in safe custody and poses no danger to Zintan or to Libya,” said Shaban al-Waer (48), a self-employed resident of the town.

“He can be held here even for a year without any problem,” he said.

Al-Islam’s location has remained a closely guarded secret with residents saying there has been no sign of the captive since his initial arrest on November 19. NTC officials have only confirmed that al-Islam is still in Zintan.

Trial to be held in Libya
In the days after al-Islam’s capture, media reports suggested that Zintan’s military council was refusing to hand him over to NTC officials unless the commander of the unit that captured him was named Libya’s defence minister.

Last week, the commander, Osama Juili, was given the defence minister’s post.

Al-Islam’s fate remains a challenge to the new Libyan leadership as it tries to balance demands for revenge against Gaddafi’s most prominent son and heir apparent and calls by the international community to give al-Islam a fair trial.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), which wants to try him on charges of crimes against humanity, has also called on the Libyan leadership to ensure al-Islam is unharmed and treated in accordance with international laws and norms.

In a statement on Friday, the ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the trial of al-Islam could be held in Libya under ICC auspices.

Innocent until proven guilty
Despite international fears that al-Islam’s safety is at risk, Zintan residents expressed their desire to see justice take its course and prove once and for all that the new Libya will be lawful, not vengeful.

“He [al-Islam] deserves a fair trial and he will get one. I am sure,” said Salam Ali Ahmed, a shopkeeper in Zintan whose grocery shop overlooks the town’s main square, packed with pictures of citizens killed in the fight to overthrow the former regime.

For Waer, Gaddafi’s son will remain innocent until proven guilty.

“Only a fair trial can prove his doings. We need to find out whether he ordered the killing of Libyans during the revolt against his father,” he said.

“We need to find out whether he used Libyan money to kill Libyans … he may not be guilty” of these offences, he added. — AFP

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Jay Deshmukh
Jay Deshmukh
Sudan Bureau Chief for Agence France Presse (AFP) based in Khartoum.
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