International Criminal Court staff freed from Libyan prison after painstaking international negotiations



Four staff members of the International Criminal Court (ICC), who had come on an official visit to meet Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Libya’s most famous prisoner, and had ended up in jail themselves, were finally freed today after painstaking international negotiations.

Days ahead of  the country’s first elections for half-century, the release took place after senior government ministers, foreign ambassadors and the ICC president had driven down to Zintan in a convoy to pay homage to this medium sized town for its “leading role in the revolution”, the “upholding of democratic values” and “matchless sacrifice”.

It was after the ICC president Sang-Hyun Song had apologized profusely for any misdemeanours by his staff, making seven references to the achievements of Zintan, which he found “overwhelming”, that Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor and her three colleagues were freed.

Reiterating their generosity, the men who run Zintan laid on a celebration lunch for the freed prisoners and VIP delegation, to which, to show their openness, some members of the foreign media were invited.

Ms Taylor said she was “very happy” to be able to return to her family. The proceedings on a hot and dusty afternoon also reinforced, however, the image of power the Republic of Zintan has projected since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

Ms Taylor had been guilty of trying to smuggle incriminating documents and a camera to Saif al-Islam, according to Alejmi Al-Atari, the militia chief who captured him. Commander Al-Atari also stressed later that the fallen dictator’s son will not be transferred to the government in Tripoli, let alone the ICC in The Hague. “He will be tried here, in Zintan for crimes, for all his oppression. Zintan can take care of justice for the Libyan people.”

Until recently, the Zintan battalions, which have more than 15,000 men under arms, “took care” of the capital’s airport, which is steadily opening up to foreign and domestic flights and becoming the main transport hub of the country. It is nominally now under the control of the Tripoli administration, but the Zintani presence is still very much there to see.

The Zintanis had become “protectors” of the capital after proclaiming themselves to be the liberators of city. This was a claim hotly disputed by fighters from Misrata, Benghazi, as well as the Sons of Tripoli brigade. It had also led to a series of blood clashes on the streets leaving dozens dead and sowing deep animosity between the various groups of former revolutionary fighters.

Tripoli itself is relatively peaceful now with Zintan distracted by another conflict, this time with Al-Mashashiyah, a neighbouring community, in which around 120 have been killed and more than 500 injured so far.

Anti-aircraft artillery has used as a ground weapon, rocket propelled grenades and heavy machine guns have been in action in the fighting. The Libyan Human Rights Observatory has accused the Zintanis of using mustard gas, although there is little evidence to support this.

Omar Buseifi, a doctor who heads the emergency unit of the hospital at Gheryan, a town at the scene of the clashes stated that he had personally dealt with documenting around 80 deaths, most of them from the Mashashia community. He said: “There were lots of wounded people as well many of them serious, mainly men, but also some women and children as well. The fighting has calmed down a bit, but we don’t know when it will start again.”

The lull is partly due to the arrival of a force sent down from Tripoli with the head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Abderrahim al-Keib, demanding both parties stop “the killing of innocent people and making families homeless.”

But it took more than a week for the administration to send the troops. NTC spokesman Nasser al-Manaa said: “It was difficult for the army to intervene directly at the beginning out of fear of provoking further casualties.”

There is a general perception that the NTC does not “want to mess” with the Zintani fighters who are well equipped after helping themselves to heavy weaponry from the regime’s abandoned arms caches.

That certainly is the view of Abdelmohammed Ibadullah, a Mashashia elder. “The people in Tripoli are scared of Zintan… it is only two hours drive away from Tripoli and they don’t want to make them angry. In the meantime, it is we who are suffering.”

With five days to go before the first polls of ‘Free Libya’, the NTC is at pains to avoid confrontations in an already tense situation with repeated outbreaks of violence in the south, west and east of the country.

In one of the most serious eruptions, on Sunday evening, hundreds of protestors, many of them armed, sacked the offices of the election commission in Benghazi and Tobruk. Activists in the two eastern cities, where the Libyan uprising had started last year, are angry at what they see as unfair distribution of seats for the election.

The demonstrators carried banners condemning NTC leaders from the east of being traitors to the region. Computers, ballot boxes and electoral rolls were burnt in the streets with footage disseminated through the Internet.

Benghazi has also seen the appearance of gunmen in cars flying the black flag of al-Qa’ida, the bombing of the city’s US consulate and an ambush of a convoy transporting the British ambassador Dominic Asquith, in which protection officers were injured.

One man sees trouble ahead unless stronger figures take charge. “The government needs to work on building security first before working on elections. I will be boycotting what they call this election and so will many others,” said Mokhtar Lakhdar, who was, until two months ago, busy working on security at the airport, for the Zintan Brigade.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot