Dusty and dishevelled, Gaddafi's feared son was found posing as camel-keeper

The Saif al-Islam captured at the weekend was a world away from the urbane operator who once terrified Libya

Zintan

The small town of Zintan, high in Libya's Nafusa mountain range, shows little evidence of Libya's billions of dollars of oil wealth. Until Saturday this dusty settlement of cement brick houses, scattered across rubble-strewn hills, had few trophies to boast of.

Now it enjoys the dubious honour of hosting the nation's most famous son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. The one-time presumed heir to the Gaddafi regime, international playboy and confidant of western leaders is now a prisoner in a private house, where he awaits justice at the hands of the men his father had been fighting for most of the past year.

The forefinger with which he once angered Libyans by wagging at them in threatening TV broadcasts is gone, severed, he says, in a Nato bombing. With it have gone the stylish western clothes and wire-framed glasses. Instead, he sports a bristly beard and traditional robes. And he faces the prospect of the most high-profile trial in the new Libya.

As a picture began to emerge yesterday of the capture of the feared dictator's son, the people he had once threatened to hunt out "house by house" like rats could barely contain their glee.

"It's the best day ever, I can't describe how I feel. I'm really happy, this really is the end," said Khalid Shaibi, one of a group of men enjoying cups of coffee at a café in Zintan yesterday. "Everyone was worried about Saif because if anything was going to happen against the Libyan people it would be organised by him. Nobody can hurt us now."

The 15-man strong border patrol that captured the fugitive Saif al-Islam had been there for weeks, roaming the vast swathes of Saharan desert that make up Libya's wild southern hinterland. "We received a tip-off about a VIP," said Al Hmaly Al Hotmaly, one of the group that launched the ambush on the lonely road to the border with neighbouring Niger.

Confronted, Saif initially attempted to hide his identity. "He tried to cheat us," recounted Ahmed Ammar, who said Saif had given his name as Abdul Salam and claimed to be a camel keeper.

Once he was identified as Gaddafi's most prominent son, a plane was summoned to take the captives back to Zintan. Abdullah el Mahd was the pilot who flew Saif al-Islam on the 90-minute journey from Obari to Zintan.

"He felt like someone who'd been defeated at war," said el Mahdi. "He was very weak, very weak inside. He knows that everything is finished."

When the plane landed at Zintan, it was soon surrounded by an angry mob.

"There was nothing I could do," explained el Mahdi. "He was afraid when he saw the people but I promised him he would be all right." It was to take hours before Saif could be taken from the plane and driven in safety to the place where he is now held under house arrest.

On Saturday evening, Libya's new leaders gathered in the crisp air of the Nafusa mountains to confirm the news to an audience of hundreds of camouflage-clad militiamen and a handful of foreign reporters.

"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," Libya's interim Prime Minister, Abdulrahman Al-Keib, said.

Officials in Zintan were saying yesterday that Saif al-Islam could be tried in the town. "We have courts and we have judges that are capable of trying him legally and fairly," said Abdullah Mohammed, a military commander in the city.

His words were echoed by Osama Jweili, head of Zintan Military Council, who said that Zintan was safe and secure enough to host the trial. Asked where Saif's trial should take place he said: "Definitely in Libya because that's what all the Libyans want."

"He's a bit depressed, not thinking straight, a bit confused because he's been hunted for so long," he said, describing Saif's present condition, adding that Zintani officials had told Saif that he would be assured a fair trial there.

"We'll provide the rights that your regime did not provide for us," they told him.

At the civilian council, officials also said Zintan could host a trial. "We can try him, it will not take too long, we don't need any new laws," Dr Omran Turki, an engineer who heads the council, said. "They are Zintanis who captured him so they will have to have him here."

He said that Saif had been exhausted. "He hasn't slept for three or four days. We didn't ask him any questions because he was so tired. We just sat him down and gave him some couscous and tea."

In Zintan's hospital, the Ukrainian doctor who treated Saif al-Islam said that his fingers were badly wounded and required urgent care but that the former fugitive was otherwise in good health.

"He was very nice. He was not depressed. He's not scared. He needs an operation," said Andrej Morakovsky, a Ukrainian doctor who said he had been working in Zintan for over eight years.

Dr Morakovsky said that Saif was being held in a private house inside the city.

"I think he should be kept here at least until a new government is formed and they know what they're doing," said Ahmed al Obeidy, one of a number of Zintani fighters who said that they wanted him tried there.

A convoy of cars piled into the concrete compound of Zintan's military council on Sunday afternoon as fighters from the Western city of Misrata arrived to congratulate the Zintanis.

"It's over," said Faisal Swehli, a businessman from Tripoli who was celebrating the news in Zintan. "The battle now is between ourselves, to unite ourselves. We are no longer cattle and they are the wolves. We are no longer afraid."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?