Zintan, Libya, Nov 20: Libya's new leaders said Sunday they will try Moammar Gadhafi's son at home and not hand him over to the International Criminal Court where he's charged with crimes against humanity. The government also announced the capture of the toppled regime's intelligence minister, who is also wanted by the court.
In one of several emerging complications, however, the former rebel faction that captured Seif al-Islam Gadhafi a day earlier is refusing to deliver him to national authorities in Tripoli, raising concern over whether he will get a proper trial and demonstrating the interim leaders' weak hold over their fractured nation.
In the capital, Information minister Mahmoud Shammam said ex-intelligence minister Abdullah al-Senoussi was captured alive on Sunday by a brigade from a southern region called Fazan, not far from where Gadhafi's son was seized on Saturday while trying to flee to neighboring Niger.
Though they are wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, Libya will likely seek to try both men at home.
Speaking before al-Senoussi's capture, Shammam said Seif al-Islam, the ousted Libyan leader's one-time heir apparent, must be tried in Libya, even though the country's new leaders have yet to establish a court system.
“It is only fair for the Libyan people that he is tried here. ... Seif al-Islam committed crimes against the Libyan people,” Shammam told The Associated Press.
“The ICC is just a secondary court, and the people of Libya will not allow Seif al-Islam to be tried outside,” Shammam said.
Seif al-Islam, who was once the face of reform in Libya and who led his father's drive to emerge from pariah status over the last decade, was captured by fighters from the small western mountain town of Zintan who had tracked him to the desert in the south of the country.
He was then flown to Zintan, 85 miles (150 kilometers) southwest of Tripoli, where he remains in a secret location. The faction of rebel fighters from the western mountains formed one of the key forces against Gadhafi's regime during the six-month civil war.
Even after Gadhafi's fall in August 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 small town'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.
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.
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.
“If you catch a criminal in Texas, you're not going to bring him to Washington, are you?” Shammam told the AP. Authorities in the National Transitional Council would also likely face challenges in organizing a trial.
Libya, under the elder Gadhafi's 42-year rule, had intentionally weak state institutions and a government that barely existed. Gadhafi, who held no title, had ultimate authority and did not want the development of any other power centers that might challenge him.
As a result, a capable court system, like other state bodies, must be built from scratch. The International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told the AP Saturday that he will travel to Libya on Monday 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.
International human rights groups have called for Seif al-Islam to be quickly sent to the court in The Hague, Netherlands, citing the apparent killings in custody of his father and brother Muatassim on Oct. 20 as “particular cause for concern.”
The two 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.
Authorities there refused to hand the bodies over to national officials and buried them in a secret location.
Libya expert George Joffe of Cambridge University said the decision to keep Seif al-Islam in Zintan and possibly try him in that town shows that the NTC has a tenuous hold over the country.
“You are looking at an organization that has never been able to establish itself properly in the country,” Joffe said. “There is a degree of chaos and it is not clear that the NTC can grab control of it.”
Meanwhile, new details emerged about Seif al-Islam's capture in which fighters swarmed a two-car convoy in the south of the country that some officials said was on its way to neighboring Niger. The car carrying him got stuck in the sand while trying to escape.
Al-Ajami al-Etery, who led the operation, said Seif al-Islam tried to hide his features by throwing sand on his face when he stepped out of his car.
“He said his name was Abdel-Salam and he pretended to be a shepherd, but we found him out and arrested him,” he told the AP.