Cinema, hot tub and a trampoline: welcome to Saif's London pad
Saturday 27 August 2011
Huddled on a neon-pink sofa in Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's palatial sitting room, six young men shout abuse at a giant television mounted on the wall. As an image of their absent host, Muammar Gaddafi's son and heir, flashes across the screen, they shout in Arabic: "Die you murderer, you dirty dog."
No Nato bombs can be heard outside. We are 1,500 miles from the fighting in the cosy surroundings of 7 Winnington Close – Saif's £11m eight-bedroom mansion in one of London's most exclusive postcodes.
These young men have been squatting here since March, when Saif returned to Libya to support his beleaguered father against the advancing rebels.
As posh squatters go, these have pedigree. All are exiled students from Benghazi and study subjects that range from dentistry to business management at universities across the UK.
With nine years and seven months left before they can legally claim squatters' rights, there are worse places to kill time. "This is our frontline," says Kalifa Hassan, 28, a student dentist at University College London.
"We are the security for this house until we can claim it for all Libyan people. It is part of the millions of dollars frozen around the world that we want back from Gaddafi to give to our new country. We will not leave without it."
They are six of a handful of Libyan exiles who take turns to "guard" the four-level, double-fronted property in shifts. "We stay for a few days to look after the place and then we change with some others," says Beder Hemed, 25, an English-language student at Manchester.
"It is a big house, but very boring," says 33-year-old Mubarak Hamed, an English student at Leicester University. "We mostly watch TV and sleep – especially now because it's Ramadan and we haven't the energy to do much else."
Through the heavy, bolted door of the property in Hampstead, north London, there's a sea of shiny black and white, from the tiling on the walls to the speckled kitchen work surfaces.
Apart from the modern designer furniture and gold-plated light fixtures, few of Saif's possessions remain since his unsuccessful bid to sell the property in March. An unused pair of electronic disco balls sit on a shelf in the reception room, beside an ugly coloured-glass sculpture.
Through giant French windows into the topiaried garden, a large trampoline stands in the shadow of a Weeping Willow and almost industrial-sized barbecue in the far corner. "We haven't used the barbecue yet," says Mo Ahmed, 30, a business management student at Edinburgh. "But the trampoline is fun."
There are no books or clothes, just a few pots and pans, wide-screen televisions, two dishwashers, microwaves, and fridges and freezers. In the basement there is a suede-lined cinema room, dirty-looking swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and steam room.
"We have a cleaning rota and we all take turns to mop and wash every day," says Mr Hamed, adding that neighbours had taken kindly to their invasion, bringing them gifts of cakes and tea.
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