Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Libya's former dictator, to go on trial for war crimes

The trial in Tripoli will start amid ongoing turmoil in the country

The war crimes trial of the son of Libya’s former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, is due to begin in Tripoli on Monday. 

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is accused of orchestrating a campaign of murder, torture and bombardment of civilians during Libya's eight-month civil war in 2011.

Appearing alongside him are his younger brother Saadi Gaddafi, former spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi, two former prime ministers and 34 senior officials.

The trial is going ahead amid turmoil and violence in the country. On Sunday Libya’s interim Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni resigned just weeks after he was appointed to the post.

He said that he had made his decision “to protect the interests of the country and so as not to drag different sides into fighting when there can be no winner”.

The move was also related to an armed attack on him and his family in a residential neighbourhood on Saturday night that put the lives of its residents at risk. He said that he did not want to be the cause of any fighting or bloodshed because of his position, but would stay on as head of the Cabinet until a replacement could be found.

Few details of the case have been revealed, but documents filed by Libya with the international criminal court (ICC) show a charge sheet detailing more than 200 witnesses and 40,000 pages of evidence.

The trial has been moved to the capital's maximum security al-Hadba prison amid security fears. Saif al-Islam will appear over video link from where he is being held by a militia in the western Libyan town of Zintan, which refuses to hand him over to the central government.

The defendants are accused of arranging a series of massacres in the early days of Libya's revolution, and of later rounding up, torturing and killing hundreds of opponents. The two brothers are also accused of plundering state funds to pay for their lavish lifestyles abroad.

Saif al-Islam enjoyed a playboy lifestyle until the revolution. His brother Saadi was known for his love of professional football - but his brief career in Italian football ended after a failed drug test.

Central to the case are telephone intercepts allegedly recording the accused ordering war crimes.

But human rights groups say violence against judges and lawyers throws the trial into question. The rule of law is still weak in Libya after decades of Gaddafi’s reign. Courts are still paralysed and security remains tenuous as unruly militias proliferate. The state, however, relies heavily on the militias to serve as security forces since the police and military remain a shambles.

And the ICC, which has charged Saif al-Islam and Senussi, has yet to agree to Libyan requests to try both at home. Judges at The Hague ruled that Saif al-Islam must be sent to the ICC, and his lawyers are appealing against a decision that Libya is fit to try Senussi.

The ICC has charged Saif al-Islam with murder and persecution of civilians.

Additional reporting by agencies

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