ZINTAN, Libya – Moammar Gadhafi’s son and former heir apparent Seif al-Islam Gadhafi was captured by revolutionary fighters in the southern desert Saturday just over a month after his father was killed.
His capture set off joyous celebrations across Libya and closes the door on the possibility that the fugitive son could stoke further insurrection.
Seif al-Islam Gadhafi – who has undergone a transformation from a voice of reform in an eccentric and reviled regime to one of Interpol’s most-wanted – now faces the prospect of trial before an international or Libyan court to answer for the alleged crimes of his late father’s four-decade rule over the oil-rich North African nation.
Thunderous celebratory gunfire shook the Libyan capital of Tripoli and other cities after Libyan officials said Gadhafi, who has been charged by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, had been detained wearing traditional Tuareg clothing about 30 miles west of the town of Obari in an area that borders Niger, Mali and Algeria.
A photograph was widely circulated showing the 39-year-old son, who had been the last wanted Gadhafi family member to remain at large, in custody, sitting by a bed and holding up three bandaged fingers as a guard looks on. Osama Juwaid, a spokesman for the fighters from Zintan who made the arrest, said it was an old injury caused by a NATO airstrike and the detainee was otherwise in good health.
“I am hopeful that the capture of Gadhafi’s son is the beginning of a chapter of transparency and democracy and freedom,” Libya’s interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib said at a news conference in the western mountain town of Zintan, where Seif al-Islam was taken after his capture.
It was unclear what would happen next, with the international community urging Libyan authorities to ensure he is treated humanely and to cooperate with the ICC on bringing him to trial.
The emergence of Seif al-Islam as the only Gadhafi in custody to face justice posed a major test of the interim government’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law. The murky circumstances surrounding the deaths of the reviled Libyan leader and another son, Muatassim, on Oct. 20, and the decision to lay their bodies out for public viewing drew widespread criticism.
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, his primary goal was to make sure Seif al-Islam receives a fair trial.
Seif al-Islam Gadhafi’s capture leaves only former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi wanted by the ICC, which indicted the two men along with Moammar Gadhafi in June for unleashing a campaign of murder and torture to suppress the uprising that broke out in mid-February.