Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saif Gadhafi Captured

The capture of Gaddafi's son

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian
OBARI, Libya | Sun Nov 20, 2011 11:14am EST

(Reuters) - The chic black sweater and jeans were gone. So too the combat khaki T-shirt of his televised last stand in Tripoli. Designer stubble had become bushy black beard after months on the run.

But the rimless glasses, framing those piercing eyes above that straight fine nose, gave him away despite the flowing nomad robes held close across his face.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, doctor of the London School of Economics, one-time reformer turned scourge of the rebels against his dictator father, was now a prisoner, bundled aboard an old Libyan air force transport plane near the oil-drilling outpost of Obari, deep in the Sahara desert.

The interim government's spokesman billed it as the "final act of the Libyan drama." But there would be no closing soliloquy from the lead player, scion of the dynasty that Muammar Gaddafi, self-styled "king of kings," had once hoped might rule Africa.

A Reuters reporter aboard the flight approached the 39-year-old prisoner as he huddled on a bench at the rear of the growling, Soviet-era Antonov. The man who held court to the world's media in the early months of the Arab Spring was now on a 90-minute flight bound for the town of Zintan near Tripoli.

He sat frowning, silent and seemingly lost in thought for part of the way, nursing his right hand, bandaged around the thumb and two fingers. At other times he chatted calmly with his captors and even posed for a picture.


Gaddafi's run had come to an end just a few hours earlier, at dead of night on a desert track, as he and a handful of trusted companions tried to thread their way through patrols of former rebel fighters intent on blocking their escape over the border.

"At the beginning he was very scared. He thought we would kill him," said Ahmed Ammar, one of the 15 fighters who captured Gaddafi. The fighters, from Zintan's Khaled bin al-Waleed Brigade, intercepted the fugitives' two 4x4 vehicles 40 miles out in the desert.

"But we talked to him in a friendly way and made him more relaxed and we said, 'We won't hurt you'."

The capture of Saif al-Islam is the latest dramatic chapter in the series of revolts that have swept the Arab world. The first uprising toppled the Ben Ali government in Tunisia early this year.

The upheaval spread to Egypt, forcing out long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak in February; swept Libya, where the capital Tripoli fell to rebels this summer and Muammar Gaddafi died after being beaten and abused by captors last month; and is now threatening the Assad family's four-decade grip on Syria.

Saif al-Islam was the smiling face of the Muammar Gaddafi's power structure. He won personal credibility at the highest echelons of international society, especially in London, where he helped tidy up the reputation of Libya via a personal charitable foundation. He threw that reputation away in the uprising, emerging as one of the hardest of hard-liners against the rebels.

This account of his capture and his final month on the run is based on interviews with the younger Gaddafi's captors and the prisoner himself. The scenes of his flight into captivity were witnessed by the Reuters reporter and a Reuters cameraman and photographer who were also aboard the plane.


Caught exactly a month after his father met a violent end, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is wanted by the International Criminal Court at The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity - specifically for allegedly ordering the killing of unarmed protesters last spring. Libya's interim leaders want him to stand trial at home and say they won't extradite him; the justice minister said he faces the death penalty.

His attempt to flee began on October 19, under NATO fire from the tribal bastion of Bani Walid, 100 miles from the capital. Ammar and his fellow fighters said they believed he had been hiding since then in the desolate tracts of the mountainous Brak al-Shati region.

Aides who were captured at Bani Walid said Saif al-Islam's convoy had been hit by a NATO air strike in a place nearby called Wadi Zamzam - "Holy Water River." Since then, there had been speculation that nomadic tribesmen once lionized by his father might have been working to spirit him across Libya's southern borders - perhaps, like his surviving brothers, sister and mother, into Niger or Algeria.

He did not get that far. Obari is a good 200 miles from either. But his captors believe he was headed for Niger, once a beneficiary of Muammar Gaddafi's oil-fueled largesse, which has granted asylum to Saif al-Islam's brother Saadi.


Ammar said his unit, scouring the desert for weeks, received a tip-off that a small group of Gaddafi loyalists - they did not know who - would be heading on a certain route toward Obari.

Lying in wait, they spotted two all-terrain vehicles grinding through the darkness.

"We fired in the air and into the ground in front of them," Ammar said. The small convoy pulled up, perhaps hoping to brazen it out.

"Who are you?" al-Ajami Ali al-Atari, the leader of the squad, demanded to know of the man he took to be the main passenger in the group.

"Abdelsalam," came the reply. "I am a camel herder."

It's a common enough name, though it means "servant of peace" in Arabic; Saif al-Islam's real name means "Sword of Islam."

Atari, sizing the man up, took Ammar aside and whispered: "I think that's Saif."

Turning back to the car, a Toyota Land cruiser of a type favored on these rugged desert tracks, Ammar said: "I know who you are. I know you."

Speaking to journalists on Sunday, Atari said that, in the darkness, "Saif jumped out and tried to take cover behind the car." He then tried to conceal himself under a bundle of clothes, covering it with sand.

"But when we told him to surrender he did," Atari said. "The operation was simple and with out any resistance or casualties. We treated Saif al-Islam properly. No one laid a finger on him because we are men of honor."

One of Gaddafi's companions was wounded in the leg by a ricochet when the snatch-squad fired into the ground, he said, but, aboard the plane, the injury did not appear too serious.


The game was up. The militiamen retrieved several Kalashnikov rifles, a hand grenade and, one of the Zintani fighters said, some $4,000 in cash from the vehicles, as well as a satellite telephone.

It was a tiny haul from a man whose father commanded one of the best-equipped armies in Africa and who is suspected by many of holding the keys - in his head - to billions stolen from the Libyan state and stashed in secret bank accounts abroad.

"He didn't say anything," Ammar said. "He was very scared and then eventually he asked where we are from, and we said we are Libyans. He asked from which city and we said Zintan."

Zintan sits far from the spot of Gaddafi's capture in the Western, or Nafusa, Mountains, just a couple of hours drive south of the capital. The people of Zintan put together an effective militia in the uprising, and they are seeking to parlay their military prowess into political clout as new leaders in Tripoli try to form a government.

At Obari, a fly-speck of a place dominated by the oil operations of a Spanish company, Zintan fighters have extended their writ since the war deep into traditionally pro-Gaddafi country peopled by Tuaregs, nomadic tribes who recognize no borders.

The Zintanis are also a force in the capital. On Saturday morning, the Antonov flew to Obari from Tripoli, bearing the new tricolour flag of "Free Libya" - and piloted by a former air force colonel turned Zintan rebel. Just a few minutes after it landed, the purpose of the flight became clear.


Five prisoners, escorted by about 10 fighters in an array of desert camouflage, piled aboard, ranging themselves on benches along the sides of the spartan hold of the Antonov An-32, which is designed to carry four dozen paratroopers.

Two of the men were handcuffed together. A third had his arms cuffed in front of him. A dozen or so bulky black bags were carried in, and some thin mattresses - the scant belongings of the prisoners, their captors said.

All wore casual, modern dress - with the exception of Saif al-Islam.

His brown robe, turban and face scarf, open sandals on his feet, were typical of the Tuaregs of the region. The choice of costume offered concealment for a man more commonly seen in sharp suits and smart casual wear, and a visual echo of his late father's penchant for dressing up.

As they shuffled on the benches, rifle butts scraping on the metal floor, one of the guards said: "He is afraid now."

The pilot, though, said that he had had a paternal word with the 39-year-old captive and put him at ease before he was brought on board.


"I spoke to him like he was a small child," said Abdullah al-Mehdi, a diminutive, heavily mustachioed ball of energy in a green jumpsuit. His ambition - typical of Zintanis in these anarchic days in Libya - is to start up a whole new air force.

"I told him he would not be beaten and he wouldn't be hurt and I gave my word," he said.
He and the other two crew in the cockpit chain-smoked their way through the flight, navigating over the barren wastes the old-fashioned way, on analog instruments, with just occasional help from a new GPS device clamped awkwardly to the windshield.

The howl of the propellers was numbing, and there was little conversation during the flight.

Saif al-Islam by turns stared ahead or turned back to crane his neck out at the land he once was in line to rule. Every so often, holding his scarf across his mouth Tuareg-fashion, he would say a few words to a guard.

The calm was in stark contrast to the frenzy that greeted the capture of Muammar Gaddafi on October 20 as he tried to flee the siege of his hometown of Sirte, on the Mediterranean coast.

Fighters from the long embattled city of Misrata filmed themselves on cellphones hammering the fallen leader, howling for revenge and inflicting a series of indignities on him before his body was displayed to crowds of sightseers for several days.


The reporter caught Saif al-Islam's eye a few times, but on each occasion he looked away. At one point he asked for water, and a bottle from the journalist's pack was passed up to him. The other prisoners, too, did not want to speak.

After the plane bumped down on the tarmac in the mountains at Zintan, it was surrounded within minutes by hundreds of people - some cheering, some clearly angry, many shouting the rebels' Islamic battle cry, "Allahu Akbar!" (God is Greatest).

Some held up cell phones to the few windows in the cargo hold, hoping to catch a snap of the most wanted man in Libya. At one point others were rattling the catches of the doors, intent it seemed on storming inside.

While his companions, clearly nervous, huddled together, Saif al-Islam seemed calm. He sat back and waited. The plane rocked gently as crowds clambered over the wings. The prisoners talked a little to each other and the guards.

Asked about The Hague court's statement that he was in touch through intermediaries about turning himself in to the international judges - who cannot impose the death penalty - he seemed to take offence: "It's all lies. I've never been in touch with them."

After more than an hour, the fighters decided they could get the other four captives off. They were helped out of the front door. Gaddafi remained where he was, on his own at the back, silent and aloof.


A further hour went by, the crowds still idling on the runway. The guards suggested it was time for the journalists to leave.

Moving back to speak to the solitary Gaddafi, the reporter asked, in English: "Are you OK?"

"Yes," he replied, looking up.

The reporter pointed to his injured hand. He said simply: "Air force, air force."

"Yes. One month ago."

The reporter moved past him to the aircraft steps. Gaddafi looked up and, without a word, briefly took her hand.

Later, television footage showed him being helped off the plane as people among the crowd on the tarmac tried to slap him. His captors shoved him into a car and sped off for a hiding place somewhere in town.

(Additional reporting by Mahmoud al-Farjani in Obari and Oliver Holmes and Taha Zargoun in Zintan; Writing by Alastair Macdonald in Tripoli; Editing by Michael Williams)

Gaddafi's son captured, scared and without a fight

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

ZINTAN, Libya | Sat Nov 19, 2011 7:19pm EST

(Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam has been captured in Libya's southern desert, scared and with only a handful of supporters, by fighters who vow to hold him in the mountain town of Zintan until there is a government to hand him over to.

Crowds across the country fired guns and hooted car horns to celebrate the seizure of the British-educated 39-year-old, who was once seen as a future ruler of the oil-producing desert state.

The capture was the "final act of the Libyan drama," said a spokesman for the country's interim government, nine months after the start of the uprising that ended Muammar Gaddafi's brutal one-man rule.

Fighters from Zintan said they stopped Saif al-Islam overnight as he drove through the desert in a small convoy and detained him without a fight. They flew him to their western mountain home on Saturday, accompanied on the plane by Reuters reporters.

Hundreds of people crowded round the plane when it landed, trapping him inside for more than an hour and raising fears he might suffer a similar fate to his father, who was beaten and shot after his capture a month ago on Sunday.

The Zintan fighters stopped people forcing their way on to the aircraft, bundled Saif al-Islam through the jostling crowd into a car and drove him away, to a secret location to protect his safety, they said.

Saif al-Islam's fate will be a key test for Libya's incoming government, due to be named on Monday according to sources, as it sets out to stamp its authority over a vast country, currently dominated by the armed militias who led the uprising.

Western leaders urged Libya to work with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has also issued an arrest warrant for Saif al-Islam, on charges of crimes against humanity during a crackdown on protesters.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both called on Libya to hand over Saif al-Islam to the global court, based in The Hague, and guarantee his safety.

But Libya's interim justice minister Mohammed al-Alagy told Reuters Saif al-Islam would be tried inside Libya for serious crimes that carry the death penalty.

Prime Minister-designate Abdurrahim El-Keib said Libya would make sure Gaddafi's son faced a fair trial and called his capture the "crowning" of the uprising.

"We assure Libyans and the world that Saif al-Islam will receive a fair trial ... under fair legal processes which our own people had been deprived of for the last 40 years," Keib told a press conference in Zintan.

Saif al-Islam, who had vowed to die fighting, was taken without a struggle, possibly as he tried to flee to Niger, officials said.

"At the beginning he was very scared. He thought we would kill him," Ahmed Ammar, one of his captors, told Reuters.

Saif al-Islam told a Reuters reporter on his plane his bandaged hand had been wounded in a NATO air strike a month ago. Asked if he was feeling all right, Gaddafi said simply: "Yes."

The Zintan fighters, who make up one of Libya's most powerful militia factions that hold effective power in a country still without a government, said they planned to keep him in Zintan until they could hand him over to authorities.

Incoming premier Keib heaped praise on the militia and said Gaddafi's son remained in the hands of "the revolutionaries in Zintan," acknowledging the authority the militia continued to hold over its territory.

Zintan could now use Saif al-Islam as a bargaining chip in the contest between rival groups for power in the new Libya. Fighters from Zintan made the decisive push on to Tripoli which ended Muammar Gaddafi's rule, and they want to make sure their contribution is recognised.

Libyans believe Saif al-Islam knows the location of billions of dollars of public money amassed by the Gaddafi family. His captors said they found only a few thousand dollars and a cache of rifles in seized vehicles.

Ammar told Reuters that his unit of 15 men in three vehicles, acting on a tip-off about a possible high-profile fugitive, had intercepted two cars carrying Gaddafi and four others in the desert about 70 km (40 miles) from the small oil town of Obari at about 1:30 a.m. (2330 GMT on Friday).


After the fighters fired into the air and forced the cars to stop, they asked the identity of the passengers. Saif al-Islam replied said he was "Abdelsalam" - a name that means "servant of peace" said the fighters who recognised and seized him.

The fighters said they put him at ease and he accepted he would be taken to Zintan, a town south of Tripoli that was a stronghold of anti-Gaddafi rebels.

Saif al-Islam appeared relatively at ease and was not handcuffed as he sat on a bench at the rear of the plane.

Wearing traditional robes with a scarf pulled over his face, Saif al-Islam had a heavy black beard and wore his rimless spectacles.

His thumb, index and another finger were heavily bandaged from the wounds sustained in the NATO strike.

Muammar Gaddafi's beating, abuse and ultimate death in the custody of former rebel fighters was an embarrassment to the previous transitional government. Officials in Tripoli said they were determined to handle his son's case with more order.

"The capture presents a challenge to the NTC. If they want to try Saif then what can they do to make Zintan hand him over?" said Henry Smith, an analyst with the Control Risks group, referring to the National Transitional Council which won international recognition as Libya's new interim government.

Memories are still fresh of the days Gaddafi's father's corpse spent rotting and on public view in the city of Misrata, another rebel stronghold, as its militia leaders trumpeted their capture of the fallen leader as part of their campaign to extract power and patronage from the new interim authority.

A fighter from an anti-Gaddafi unit, the Khaled bin al-Waleed Brigade, which said it seized Saif al-Islam in the wilderness near the oil town of Obari, told Free Libya television: "We got a tip he had been staying there for the last month.

"They couldn't get away because we had a good plan," Wisam Dughaly added, saying Saif al-Islam had been using a 4x4 vehicle: "He was not hurt and will be taken safely for trial so Libyans will be able to prosecute him and get back their money.

"We will take him to Zintan for safekeeping to keep him alive until a government is formed and then we will hand him over as soon as possible," Dughaly said.

He added that Saif al-Islam, once seen as a reformer who engineered his father's rapprochement with the West, appeared to have been hiding out in the desert since fleeing the tribal bastion of Bani Walid, near Tripoli, in October.

"I'm really surprised that Saif al-Islam has not met the same fate as his father and his brother," Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, told BBC TV.

"The best thing that the new leadership can do is to hand Saif al-Islam to the International Criminal Court because I don't believe it really has the resources and the means to try Saif al-Islam and give him a fair trial."


Asked of the chances of that, he said "Almost zero." He said he expected him to get the death penalty and be executed in Libya. "This is unfortunate for the new Libya," he said.
Justice Minister Alagy said he was in touch with the ICC over how to deal with Gaddafi.

"We Libyans do not oppose the presence of international monitors to monitor the trial procedures that will take place for the symbols of the former regime," he told Al Jazeera.

Other Libyan officials have said a trial in Libya should first address killings, repression and theft of public funds over the four decades of the elder Gaddafi's personal rule.

There was no word of the other official wanted by the ICC, former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton hailed the arrest of Saif al-Islam as a "significant development" and told Libya's new rulers to ensure full cooperation with the ICC.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who with France pushed for foreign military intervention in Libya, joined calls for a fair trial and offered Libya help in ensuring justice.

"The Libyan government has told us again today that he will receive a trial in line with international standards, and it is important that this happens," he said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Ismail Zeitouny and Mahmoud al-Farjani in Zintan, Ali Shuaib, Alastair Macdonald, Omar Younis, Hisham El-Dani in Tripoli, Francois Murphy in Benghazi, Erika Solomonin Beirut, Christian Lowe in Algiers, Peter Apps and Michael Holden in London, Nicholas Vinocur in Paris and Gilbert Kreijger in Amsterdam; Writing by Alastair Macdonald, Peter Millership andAndrew Heavens)

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi sitting in a plane in Zintan, concealing his right hand which was injured in a Nato bombing.Photograph by Ismail Zitouni/Reuters Photograph: Ismail Zitouni/Reuters 

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the last remaining member of the Gaddafi family still at large in Libya, has been arrested in the southern desert and taken to the town of Zintan. He was caught while apparently attempting to flee the country.

Video footage, shown on Libyan television and distributed by the country's transitional authority, pictured him wrapped in a brown blanket and lying on a mattress. He was holding up three heavily bandaged fingers from injuries sustained in a Nato bombing raid a month ago as he fled the town of Bani Walid the day before his father's death.

The late Muammar Gaddafi's heir-apparent was looking thinner and had allowed the hair to grow on his usually shaven head; he had also grown a beard. News of his capture was greeted by celebratory gunfire in Tripoli.

"This is the final chapter of the Libyan drama," information minister Mahmoud Shammam said. "We will put him on trial in Libya and he will be judged by Libyan law for his crimes."

Saif will be put on trial in Libya for serious crimes that carry the death penalty, Libya's interim justice minister said on Saturday. "He has instigated others to kill, has misused public funds, threatened and instigated and even took part in recruiting and bringing in mercenaries," Mohammed al-Alagi said. He added that the charges against Saif carried the death penalty.

The foreign secretary, William Hague, said: "I welcome the arrest of Saif al-Islam. This represents another significant step forward in the transition to a new, democratic Libya. He must now be held to account for his actions, and face trial on the charges brought against him, including by the International Criminal Court."

Ahmed Ammar, one of Saif's captors, said that his unit of 15 men in three vehicles, acting on a tip-off, had intercepted two cars carrying Saif and four others near the small oil town of Obari at about 1.30am on Friday.

After the fighters fired into the air and ground in order to halt the cars, they asked the identity of the travellers. The man in charge replied that he was "Abdelsalam" – meaning "servant of peace". But the fighters quickly recognised him as Saif and seized him without a fight.

"At the beginning he was very scared. He thought we would kill him," Ammar said. Bashir Thaelba, a Zintan commander, told reporters in the capital that Saif would be held in Zintan until there was a government – due to be formed within days – to whom he could be handed over.

Marek Marczynski of Amnesty International urged the Libyans to transfer Saif to the ICC base in the Netherlands as soon as possible. "The ICC has an arrest warrant out for him and that is the correct thing to do. He must be brought before a judge as soon as possible," he said.

Saif, who studied at the London School of Economics, was once regarded as the reform-minded and pro-western face of the regime. He gained notoriety early in the war when he delivered a bloodthirsty 40-minute television statement to Libyans warning that the regime planned to "eradicate" its enemies."

He was wanted on an international warrant from the ICC for crimes against humanity, including his indirect involvement in the deaths of opponents of his father's regime, charges he rejected through an intermediary who contacted the court last month.

Following the death of his father and brother Mutassim last month, Saif, aged 39, and former intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi were the last two senior figures to be sought by the new government.

A spokesman for the Zintan brigades, Bashir al-Tlayeb, who first announced the capture in Tripoli, said the National Transitional Council would decide where Saif would be tried. He also said that there was still no information about Senussi's whereabouts.

An ICC spokesman stressed that Libya had a legal obligation to co-operate with the international arrest warrant. "First we have to verify if it really is him and that he's actually been arrested this time," Fadi El Abdallah, said. "If they decide they want to try the suspect in Libya instead of at the ICC, there's a necessary process."

He said the Libyans could formally request that the case be transferred, then ICC judges would make a decision. "The main criteria is that he generally be prosecuted for the same crimes," the spokesman said. "For us there's an obligation, a legal obligation under international law, for the national government to co-operate with the ICC."

Gaddafi's Son Saif al-I
Saturday Nov. 19, 2011
UPDATED: 11:00 a.m. EST

(TRIPOLI, Libya) — Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam — the only wanted member of the ousted ruling family to remain at large — was captured as he traveled with aides in a convoy in Libya's southern desert, Libyan officials said Saturday. Thunderous celebratory gunfire shook the Libyan capital as the news spread.

A spokesman for the Libyan fighters who captured him said Saif al-Islam, who has been charged by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, was detained about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of the town of Obari with two aides as he was trying to flee to neighboring Niger. But the country's acting justice minister later said the convoy's destination was not confirmed.

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, he wants to make sure Saif al-Islam has a fair trial.

"The good news is that Saif al-Islam is arrested, he is alive, and now he will face justice," Ocampo said in an interview in The Hague. "Where and how, we will discuss it."

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, at 39 the oldest of seven children of Muammar and Safiya Gaddafi, had long drawn Western favor in by touting himself as a liberalizing reformer in the autocratic regime but then staunchly backed his father in his brutal crackdown on rebels in the regime's final days. He had gone underground after Tripoli fell to revolutionary forces and issued audio recordings to try to rally support for his father.

His capture just over a month after his father was killed leaves only former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi wanted by the ICC, which indicted the three men for in June for unleashing a campaign of murder and torture to suppress the uprising against the Gaddafi regime that broke out in mid-February. "This is the day of victory, this is the day of liberation, finally the son of the tyrant has been captured," said Mohammed Ali, an engineer, as he celebrated on Tripoli's Martyrs' Square. "Now we are free, now we are free, God is Great."

Libyan state TV posted a photograph purportedly of Saif al-Islam in custody. He is sitting by a bed and holding up three bandaged fingers as a guard looks on, although it could not independently be confirmed where or when the picture was taken or how he was injured.

The murky circumstances surrounding the deaths of Gaddafi and another son Muatassim, and the decision to lay their bodies out for public viewing drew widespread criticism and raised questions about the commitment of Libya's new rulers to respecting human rights.

Marek Marczynski of Amnesty International urged the governing National Transitional Council to transfer Saif al-Islam to the ICC base in the Netherlands as soon as possible. "The ICC has an arrest warrant out for him and that is the correct thing to do. He must be brought before a judge as soon as possible," he said. "It matters for the victims. What they need to see is true justice. They need to know the truth about what happened."

Interim Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagi told The Associated Press that Saif al-Islam was detained deep in Libya's desert Friday night by revolutionary forces from the mountain town of Zintan who had been tracking him for days.

Saif al-Islam was being held in Zintan but would be transported to Tripoli soon, according to al-Alagi. A spokesman for the Zintan brigades, Bashir al-Tlayeb, who first announced the capture at a press conference in Tripoli, said the NTC, which took over governing the country after Gaddafi was ousted, would decide where Saif al-Islam would be tried. "Saif al-Islam was caught with two aides who were trying to smuggle him into Niger," al-Tlayeb said, adding that he had no information about al-Senoussi's whereabouts.

The justice minister, however, said Saif al-Islam was captured closer to the Algerian border and the convoy's destination was not known.

The White House said it was aware of the reports but had no immediate comment.

The International Criminal Court had earlier said that it was in indirect negotiations with a son of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi about his possible surrender for trial.

ICC prosecutor Ocampo said jurisdiction should not be hard to determine.

"The rules are, primacy for the national authorities, depending on if they have a case," he said.

But he added that judges at the ICC would have to formally approve a transfer of venue, under international law.

Libya's Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam said the NTC had not taken an official position yet, but in his personal view, Saif al-Islam "is an outlaw and should be tried in front of the Libyan Court, by Libyan people and by Libyan justice."

The international community said the treatment of Saif al-Islam would be an important test for the role of rule of law in post-Gaddafi and key to reconciliation efforts, regardless of where he is tried.

"The Libyan authorities should now ensure that Saif al-Islam is brought to justice in accordance with the principles of due process and in full cooperation with the International Criminal Court," the European Union said in a statement.

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