(FILES) This file photo taken on August 23, 2011 shows Saif al-Islam Kadhafi, son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, appearing in front of supporters and journalists at his father’s residential complex in the Libyan capital Tripoli. An armed group in Libya said on Facebook on June 10, 2017 it has freed Seif al-Islam, the son of dead dictator Moamer Kadhafi who has been in custody since November 2011. IMED LAMLOUM / AFP
Seif al-Islam, the second son and heir apparent of the late deposed Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, is said to have been freed in Libya after more than five years in captivity.
The Abu Bakr al-Sadiq Brigade, a militia that controls the town of Zintan in western Libya, said Seif al-Islam was freed late on Friday, under an amnesty law promulgated by the parliament based in the country’s east during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“He is now free and has left the city of Zintan,” the group said in a statement on its Facebook page. There was no independent confirmation of Seif al-Islam’s release, which could spark further instability in a country already wracked by divisions and violence.
Seif al-Islam had been held in Zintan since November 2011, just days after his father was killed in a NATO-backed uprising against his decades-long rule.
The Zintan militia, which opposes Libya’s UN-backed government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital, had refused to hand him over to authorities despite several legal cases.
Among them was an arrest warrant for Seif al-Islam issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for alleged crimes against humanity related to the bloody repression of the uprising.
In response to an email from AFP, Seif al-Islam’s lawyer at the ICC, Karim Khan, said: “I am not able to confirm or deny any matters at this moment in time.” Previous reports of Seif al-Islam’s release have proven false.
It was unclear why the Zintan group may have decided to release Seif al-Islam now or what he may be planning. His mother and some of his siblings fled to Algeria after the revolution and eventually settled in Oman.
– ‘Sword of Islam’ –
His release comes with the North African country still rocked by infighting, with authorities in the east, reportedly allied with the forces of powerful strongman Khalifa Haftar, refusing to recognise the Tripoli-based GNA.
Some in the country have even started yearning for the Kadhafi years, when the oil-rich country was ruled by a deeply repressive regime but was also stable. Seif al-Islam, 44, is the second of Kadhafi’s eight children, the eldest son of his second wife Safiya.
The fluent English speaker, whose name means “sword of Islam”, often appeared in the West as the public face of his father’s regime and was seen by many as a potential reformer.
His reformist image vanished quickly however in the uprising against his father’s 42-year dictatorship. Seif al-Islam became the defiant face of the embattled regime, appearing on television or giving news conferences to warn that opposition forces would be crushed.
Seif al-Islam and eight other Kadhafi-era figures, including spy master Abdullah al-Senussi, were sentenced to death by a Tripoli court in July 2015. In July 2016, Seif al-Islam’s lawyers claimed that their client had been released under an amnesty issued by the unrecognised authorities in the east of the country.
But the GNA said the amnesty, enacted in April that year, could not apply to persons accused of crimes against humanity. Three of Kadhafi’s seven sons died during the revolution.
One son who survived, Saadi, is still on trial in Libya for his alleged involvement in the crackdown and killing of a former football coach. The shockwaves created by the ouster and grizzly killing of Moamer Kadhafi by rebels in his home town of Sirte continue to ripple across the troubled country.
Late last month, Tripoli was rocked by fierce clashes between forces loyal to the unity government and rival militias, with more than 50 members of the pro-GNA forces reported killed.
Relying on militia support and pitted against the rival administration in the east, the GNA has struggled to assert its authority.