The ‘once-omnipotent’ son of dictator Muammar Qaddafi was hoping to blend in with the locals as government forces closed in on his hide-out in the south of the sprawling country Saturday.
“When we caught him, he said, ‘My name is Abdul Salem, a camel keeper,'” Libyan commander Ahmed Amur on Sunday, told reporters. “It was crazy.”
Saif al-Islam was caught by revolutionary fighters after weeks on the run near the oasis town of Obari.
He had been on the run since shortly after the fall of his fathers compound in the capital of Tripoli in August.
Saif Qaddafi is wanted by the The International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, including murder, committed during the uprising against his father.
But it remains unclear whether Saif al-Islam’s captors based in the western mountains would agree to hand over Gaddafi’s favourite son to the authorities in Tripoli. Libya’s prime minister, Abdurrahim al-Keib, is about to announce a new cabinet.
Saif al-Islam is the ultimate bargaining chip for Zintan, keen to secure maximum influence in the new government above other regional claimants.
“We can try him, it will not take too long, we don’t need any new laws,” said Omran Eturki, leader of Zintan council, referring to questions over Libya’s current legal limbo. “They are Zintanis who captured him so they will have to have him here.
“The judicial authorities can appoint the judges and the lawyers, but the trial must be here. As long as there is justice, that is it.”
He said Saif al-Islam would get a fair trial. “There is no point to make a revolution for justice, and then you become the same killers. All the people of Zintan want to see him have a proper trial. We don’t like to harm him. If we wanted to kill him we could kill him. We captured him so I think we have the right to try him.”
Saif al-Islam was apprehended in the desert near Obari, a small town that straddles roads leading to Algeria and Niger.
“We knew it was a VIP target, we did not know who,” said Amur. After stopping the two cars containing Saif al-Islam and four others, Amur said Saif al-Islam threw himself face down and began rubbing dirt on his face. “He wanted to disguise himself. His face was covered [with dirt], I knew who he was,” said Amur. “Then he said to us, ‘Shoot.’ When the rebels refused to shoot, and identified themselves, Saif al-Islam told them: ‘OK, shoot me, or take me to Zintan.’
“We don’t kill or harm a captured man, we are Islam,” said Amur, still clad in the green combat jacket he wore when making the arrest. “We have taken him here to Zintan. After that, our government is responsible.”
A Ukrainian doctor who treated Saif al-Islam said he would need to have several fingers amputated to prevent infection spreading. Dr Andrew Morokovsky, from Krivoi Rog, has been working in Zintan hospital for eight years and stayed to tend wounded fighters when war broke out in Libya in February.
“It’s an old wound, the wound was septic. He [Saif al-Islam] told me it was from Nato bombing. The fingers have rupture, I don’t know, maybe bombing, yes.”
He said he would perform an operation to cut the fingers lower down the bone. “There has to be reamputation, and close the skin,” he said.
Morokovsky said Saif al-Islam seemed calm when they met, and was thin but otherwise healthy. “He was very nice, he’s not scared.”
The doctor said the fighters had asked him to perform the operation in Zintan, but that it was not clear if they wanted it done in the house where he is captive or the town’s single hospital. Morokovsky said he preferred the hospital. “It is better for me and for him to do it here [the hospital]. It has more facilities.”
Senussi built up a reputation as the enforcer of Gaddafi’s will when he was the chief of security during a deadly purge of regime opponents in the early 1980s. Many Libyans also hold Senussi responsible for the 1996 killing of around 1,200 inmates at Abu Salim prison in Tripoli.