Omar Ashour: Why Libyans won't let Saif go easily

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The arrest of Saif Gaddafi yesterday marks the end of the last influential figure in the Gaddafi family. I met Saif twice. And based on my experience, he will not disappear without creating controversy.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued a warrant for Saif's arrest. And after the fate of his father, Muammar Gaddafi, many in the international community would like to see him tried by the ICC. Libya's legal system is extremely underdeveloped, and Colonel Gaddafi never attempted to change that during his 42-year era.

"So what?" responded a Libyan friend who fought in Misrata. "He killed Libyans in Libya. He should not be tried, punished or executed anywhere else." This feeling is common. Many of the fighters who captured Saif had family members killed because of the repressive policies of Gaddafi and his sons. Arguing that Gaddafi did not develop a legal system in which his son could be tried seems futile.

The same applies to the argument that the ICC is the only legal body that issued an international arrest warrant for Saif and that therefore he should be handed over to it. Neither the ICC nor the National Transitional Council (NTC) is in full control of the brigade that caught Saif.

The NTC, and many of its figures, want to remain popular. Handing Saif to the ICC will not win them any popularity. Any Libyan politician who dares to hand him over will probably face popular outrage, political outbidding and, possibly, an armed response. Unless the NTC receives major incentives, the chances of it handing Saif to the ICC are slim.

What makes Saif worthy of capture, not killing, is the information he has. This includes details of decision-making during the revolution, the brutal crackdown on Misrata, al-Zintan and elsewhere, and his international links. Many Libyan officials will want to keep this in Libya.

Finally, the question of justice. An international trial for Saif would be a media circus. He likes to play the hero whenever he gets a chance. He will not get this chance in Libya, just like his victims in Misrata, Tripoli, Benghazi and elsewhere. They are the true heroes.

Dr Omar Ashour is the director of Middle East graduate studies at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, and the author of 'The De-Radicalization of Jihadists: Transforming Armed Islamist Movements'

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