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ZINTAN, Libya — The revolutionary fighters who captured Moammar Gadhafi’s son and one-time heir apparent said Sunday they want to hold him in their town until a court system is established in Libya, and they demanded he be tried inside the country.
Seif al-Islam Gadhafi was seized in Libya’s southern desert by fighters from the western mountain town of Zintan, the base of former rebels who played a key role in seizing the capital Tripoli in August and toppling Gadhafi’s regime. He was put into a plane and flown back to Zintan, 85 miles (150 kilometers) southwest of Tripoli, where he remains in a secret location.
The head of Zintan’s military council, Col. Mohammed al-Khabash, said his fighters have no intention of turning Seif al-Islam over to the National Transitional Council in Tripoli, the interim government that took power after Gadhafi’s ouster.
“Seif al-Islam is like any other local prisoner and we will keep him in Zintan until a court system is established and he must be tried in Libya,” al-Khabash told the Associated Press.
Gadhafi’s son, once being groomed to take over from his father who ruled Libya for 42 years, is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands on charges of crimes against humanity for his role in violently suppressing the uprising against the regime that began in February.
NTC Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagi claimed Saturday after Seif al-Islam was captured that he would be transported to Tripoli soon — an indication that he was expected to be handed over to NTC custody.
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told the AP Saturday that he will travel to Libya next week 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.
The statement by the Zintan fighters raises new questions about how firm the NTC’s authority is over the entire country and whether powerful regional factions with bands of armed fighters are able to act autonomously, even on issues of the highest national interest.
Gadhafi himself and another one of his sons, Muatassim, were captured alive last month by another strong regional group, the Misrata fighters, who also took part in the march on Tripoli that toppled the regime. By the end of the day they were seized on, they both ended up dead while still in the hands of Misrata fighters in circumstances that have yet to be explained. The Misrata fighters held onto their corpses and displayed them as trophies for days in a commercial refrigerator in their city, where people lined up to view the decomposing bodies.
Human Rights Watch has called for Seif al-Islam to be promptly turned over to the International Criminal Court in a statement, citing the apparent killings in custody of his father and brother, Muatassim, on Oct. 20 as “particular cause for concern.”
Seif al-Islam’s capture leaves only former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi wanted by the ICC, which indicted the two men along with Gadhafi in June for unleashing a campaign of murder and torture to suppress the uprising against the Gadhafi regime that broke out in mid-February. Protests inspired by the so-called Arab Spring sweeping the region soon escalated into a civil war, with NATO launching airstrikes under a U.N.-mandate to protect civilians.
Photos and video clips showed Seif al-Islam wearing glasses and a beard, clothed in 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. In some, he was bundled onto an airplane that apparently carried him to Zintan.
It was a dramatic turnabout for Seif al-Islam, who is the oldest of seven children of Moammar and Safiya Gadhafi. He had one older half brother, Mohammed.
He went underground after Tripoli fell to revolutionary forces in late August and was widely reported to have long been hiding in the besieged town of Bani Walid, issuing audio recordings to try to rally support for his father, but he escaped before it fell to revolutionary forces.