Interim Tripoli government says son of Muammar Gaddafi was arrested while attempting to flee to neighbouring Niger.
Celebrations have erupted across Libya at the capture of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the fugitive son of Libya’s deceased former dictator. Libyan state TV reported that Saif has arrived in captivity and unhurt at an army base in the town of Zintan, 90 miles south-west of Tripoli.
Muammar Gaddafi’s second and highest-profile son, who vowed to die fighting but was taken without firing a shot, was captured along with several bodyguards by fighters near the town of Obari in Libya’s southern desert, said the interim justice minister and other officials.
Saif was said to be in good health, according to the justice minister Mohammed al-Alagi, although photographs showed bandages .
“We have arrested Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in [the] Obari area,” the minister told Reuters.
Saif was captured near the southern city of Sabha with two aides trying to smuggle him out to neighbouring Niger, militia commander Bashir al-Tayeleb said.
Zintan, a base for forces in the Nafusa Mountains which played a key part in the storming of Tripoli in the summer, is reported to have crowds dancing in the streets and waving the Libyan flag.
There are reports that an angry mob tried to storm the plane on which Saif was taken to the western mountain town of Zintan, the home of one of the largest revolutionary brigades in Libya. Video footage showed dozens of people on top of the aircraft.
Gunfire is echoing across the capital, Tripoli, where large crowds have gathered in Martyrs’ Square firing volleys of automatic fire in the air. “A great day, a great day,” said Abdullah, a taxi driver, stuck in one of the traffic jams that built up around the square.
Libyan TV also showed a photo purportedly of Saif in custody. He is sitting by a bed and holding up three bandaged fingers as a guard looks on.
There were reports that Saif was wounded during his capture. But Saif told Reuters that his hand was bandaged due to wounds sustained in a Nato air strike a month ago. Asked if he was feeling all right, he replied: “Yes.”
“At the beginning he was very scared. He thought we would kill him,” Ahmed Ammar, one of his captors, told the news agency.
Tlayeb, of the Zintan brigades said it would be up to the Libya’s transitional ruling National Transitional Council to decide on where Saif would be tried.
He added that there was still no information about Libya’s former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi’s location.
Many Libyans believe Saif holds the keys in his head to billions of dollars of public money amassed by the Gaddafi family. But his captors said they found only a few thousand dollars and a cache of rifles in vehicles seized during his capture.
The arrest comes after months of hunting for the suspect in the southern desert but also provides the first challenge for the new government which prime minister Abdel-Rahim al-Keeb is due to announce on Sunday.
Previously, the ruling National Transitional Council has insisted it will try any war criminals in Libya and not extradite them to the international criminal court which in June indicted Gaddafi for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“If they want to try Saif then what can they do to make Zintan hand him over?” said Henry Smith, an analyst with the Control Risks group.
“They may leave his fate to Zintanis but then where does that leave Libya’s embryonic judicial system? This is an acid test of the NTC’s authority.”
Last month, Saif told the international criminal court he is innocent of alleged crimes against humanity. The court, based in The Hague, is seeking his arrest on charges relating to Libya’s civil war.
Alagi said he was in touch with the ICC over how to deal with Saif, either at home or The Hague. He told al-Jazeera: “We Libyans do not oppose the presence of international monitors to monitor the trial procedures that will take place for the symbols of the former regime.”
The international criminal court’s chief prosecutor will go to Libya in a week to discuss how and where Saif will be prosecuted.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo said: “I’m going to Libya to discuss how we manage this issue. But the news is Saif will get justice. Where and how, that we will discuss.”
The ICC charged Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, and Senussi with crimes against humanity for the bombing and shooting of civilian protesters in February.
British foreign secretary, William Hague, welcomed Saif’s arrest as “another significant step forward in the transition to a new, democratic Libya.”
Hague added: ” We stand ready to assist the Libyan government and the ICC to bring Saif al-Islam to justice. I welcome the Libyan authorities’ commitment to ensure his detention and trial meet international standards.”
Saif fled Libya after forces loyal to Libya’s new rulers captured and apparently killed his father outside his hometown of Sirte. But Libyan officials are determined to resist attempts to bring Saif before the ICC, claiming he should instead face justice at home.
When Tripoli seemed set to fall to the rebels, he appeared outside a hotel in the city meeting loyalists and talking to western reporters. He went underground after the capital fell to revolutionary forces.
Born in 1972, Saif is the oldest of seven children of Muammar and Safia Gaddafi. He drew western backing in previous years by touting himself as a liberal reformer but then staunchly backed his father in the brutal crackdown on rebels in the regime’s final days.
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