November 19, 2011

Seif al-Islam: Profile of reformer turned wanted fugitive

TRIPOLI (AFP) – Seif al-Islam, whose arrest was announced on Saturday after several weeks on the run, was the likely successor of his father Moamer Kadhafi and destined to become the modern face of Libya.

But the Arab uprisings which swept the region instead left Seif as the last major holdout of a regime brought to its knees and eliminated by a NATO-backed revolt.

Born in 1972, Seif al-Islam, whose name means sword of Islam, is the second of Kadhafi’s eight children, the eldest son of his second wife Safiya.

Seif, who received a doctorate from the London School of Economics, held no official post but carved out influence as a loyal emissary of Kadhafi’s regime and architect of reform, anxious to normalise ties with the West.

He shot to prominence in 2000 when the Kadhafi Foundation that he headed negotiated the release of Western hostages held by Muslim rebels in the Philippines.

In 2007, he served as a mediator over the 2007 release of Bulgarian nurses who were jailed over a hospital AIDS outbreak.

He also negotiated compensation agreements for the families of those killed in the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing and of UTA Flight 772 in 1989, both of which were blamed on Libya.

He long served as the face of Kadhafi’s regime in the West, appearing in suit and tie, and speaking fluent English.

But reformist image vanished when an uprising against his father was launched from the eastern city of Benghazi in February, often going on television or giving press conferences to warn that opposition forces would be crushed.

As National Transitional Council (NTC) forces closed in on Tripoli late August, he went underground — only to reappear in the capital on August 23, just two days after reports he had been captured by the rebels.

But he had not been heard from since, until a senior official of the ruling National Transitional Council announced that Seif had been arrested in the south of Libya.

The dapper 39-year-old is wanted by the International Criminal Court, which had said earlier this month it was negotiating his possible surrender.

ICC judges in June issued arrest warrants for Seif and his father as well as against spy master Abdullah al-Senussi, for crimes against humanity allegedly committed since Kadhafi ordered his forces to wipe out the revolt.

All three were charged over their roles in the murder and persecution of civilians, particularly in Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said when the charges were announced.

“We have a long breath,” Seif said in his last speech broadcast on television on August 21.

“We are in our land and in our country. We will resist for six months, one year, two years … and we will win,” he said.

“We will not submit, we will not abandon the fight,” he said. “This is not the decision of Seif al-Islam or Kadhafi but the decision of the Libyan people.