Alive or dead, the Gaddafis divide their enemies

Kim Sengupta, in Misrata, reports on the wrangling over the fate of the former leader's body, while Jane Merrick looks at the potential threat posed by the only missing family member

Father and son had been reunited as exhibits. The bodies of Muammar and Mutassim Gaddafi on display on the floor of a refrigerated meat locker were viewed by hundreds of people, including families with children, who filed past the grim trophies of Libya's revolution.

Calls mounted internationally yesterday for an investigation into the killings. But that was of little concern to those who queued up outside the gate of the market complex where they were being kept in Misrata.

Some carried mementos of what lay behind such hatred, photographs of those killed and "disappeared". Abbas Mohammed Bishteta came with a photograph of his father, who was taken away by the secret police 28 years ago. "I was just a boy at the time, I remember the night they came, everyone was frightened, my mother was crying," he said in a quiet voice.

The former opposition which runs the provisional government issued conflicting statements, a hallmark of the disparate group bound by the shared aim of getting rid of Gaddafi. The Prime Minister, Mahmoud Jibril, paid a visit to the bodies. He then declared, apparently looking at autopsy notes, that the former leader had been detained, and was killed in crossfire when his loyalist troops tried to rescue him. The explanation was risible and, with the UN, human rights groups and governments, including Russia and the US, condemning the killings, the Transitional National Council announced that a post-mortem examination would be carried out after all. Ali Tarhouni, the oil and energy minister, said he had reassured international partners that there would be an investigation with forensic tests.

That was yesterday morning. But during the day, Fathi Bashaga, a senior official in Misrata, which endured a bitter siege by the regime, ruled out an autopsy. He stated: "At least four groups of doctors have examined the body and determined the cause of death was a bullet to the head and stomach. As far as we are concerned, there is no need to cut his body up."

Last night Mr Jibril said he wished Gaddafi had not been killed and instead had been put on trial for his crimes. "To be honest with you at the personal level I wish he was alive. I want to know why he did this to the Libyan people."

Rebel fighters who were present when Gaddafi was captured at Sirte, the dictator's birthplace, describe the rebels' initial elation, followed by their rage and violence.

Hassan Ali Mansouri, a 23-year-old student, recalled, "He was beaten pretty badly and he could hardly walk by himself. There were a lot of injuries to his body and I do not know if he would have survived. We tried to get him to an ambulance and then lost him. There were shots fired, and then a couple of single shots. That was it."

The fate of Gaddafi may have been caught in footage that has emerged. He is shown slumped and being dragged along, blows raining down on his head. He cries: "God forbids this, do you not know the difference between right and wrong?" There is a shout of "Shut up, you dog!" followed by "Allah Hu Akhbar" and a pistol is pointed at his head. The next frame is of him lying on the ground, seemingly lifeless.

Mutassim, the rebels have claimed, was also killed in battle. But footage has also emerged of him captured alive, smoking a cigarette and then lying down with an arm over his face. The corpse produced in Misrata had deep wounds to the chest and neck.

There remains the question of what happens to the corpses. It was announced last night that the provisional government had agreed to hand Colonel Gaddafi's body over to his family. A spokesman said: "It is in the interests of his family and the whole country to bury Gaddafi in a secret place but this has not been decided yet." There is concern that his grave could become a shrine for loyalists.

The potential threat posed by the only missing family member

The only member of the Gaddafi family unaccounted for after the fall of Sirte is the one who could pose the most difficulties for the British Royal Family and the last Labour government: Saif al-Islam.

Now wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, Colonel Gaddafi's second-eldest son was once the darling of the British establishment: known personally to Tony Blair, Lord Mandelson, the Duke of York and Nat Rothschild, and a donor to the London School of Economics, who gave him a PhD.

Last night his whereabouts were unknown. One report claimed he had been wounded and was being held at a hospital in Zlitan, although this was denied by hospital officials. Another said he was heading to Niger after fleeing from Sirte when the convoy of vehicles carrying his father came under attack by French jets. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary general, said yesterday he had no knowledge of Saif's location. Unconfirmed reports say that Gaddafi loyalists in Libya have sworn fealty to Saif in the wake of his father's death.

Saif is now the prize target for capture and trial at The Hague. If he is ever caught, the 39-year-old playboy who owned a mansion in Hampstead may use his appearance in the dock to maximise discomfort for Britain.

Following the fall of Tripoli, documents recovered from the British embassy included a letter from Mr Blair to Saif. It addressed him as "Dear Engineer Saif" before praising his "interesting" PhD thesis. The Libyan later described Mr Blair as a "personal family friend". The pair met in 2006, during the rapprochement between Britain and Libya, which began in 2003 when MI6 and the CIA persuaded Gaddafi Snr to give up his chemical and biological weapons.

The warming of relations ultimately led to the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in August 2009. Saif's intimate knowledge of both British and Libyan governments could shed light on the murky details of this episode.

Saif was also invited by Prince Andrew, the UK's former trade ambassador, to stay at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace – leaving open the prospect of the private and colourful conversations of royals spilling into the utilitarian surroundings of the ICC courtroom. In the summer of 2009, a year after the Yachtgate controversy involving Lord Mandelson, George Osborne and Nat Rothschild in Corfu, Saif reportedly met the Labour peer at the Rothschild manor on the Greek island. In November of that year, Lord Mandelson spent time with Saif while the Libyan was enjoying a shooting weekend at Rothschild's Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire.

As Tripoli fell to the rebels in August, Saif clambered on to a pick-up truck outside the Rixos Hotel in the capital to "refute the lies" that the regime was toppled. For such a man, spilling the secrets of the establishment may prove too hard to resist.

Additional reporting: Paul Carsten

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