Saif al Islam capture: Bargaining chip in Libyan power struggle
DEBKAfile Special Report November 19, 2011, 6:54 PM (GMT+02:00)
The announcement of the capture of Muammar Qaddafi's son Saif al Islam, 39, outside Obari near the southern desert town of Sabha was initially celebrated as the last chapter of the ex-ruler's family role in the fight for control of Libya – but not for long. Although justice minister claimed his arrest, it quickly turned out that Qaddafi's son was in the hands of one of Libya's most important militias, the Zintan Brigades, who refused to hand him over until a government is formed.
He was flown to their mountain stronghold in the Nafusa Mountains 136 kilometers southwest of Tripoli.
This Berber militia is not likely to let go of its valuable bargaining chip in a hurry. It enables its leaders to throw a wrench into the plans of Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib to present his cabinet lineup Sunday for the National Transitional Council-NTC to confirm Tuesday. Nov. 22.
El-Keib was working on the list with NTC head Mustafa Abdul Jalil and the Tripoli commander Abdel Hakim Belhadj (ex-al Qaeda.)
However, Friday, Nov. 18, twenty-four hours before Saif al-Islam's capture was announced, Zintan militia chief Abdullah Naker and the Misurata chief Abdulrahman Souweli formed a pact to overturn any new government which does not assign them the positions of defense minister and head of the army.
The Zintan commander Naker showed the press a video of his militiamen firing Grad missiles and driving T-72 tanks to show them he meant business.
Both militia chiefs were also highly critical of Qatar's deep involvement in Libya's internal affairs.
"We are really grateful to Qatar for what they did for the Libyan people," Naker said. But "the brand of Islam favored by Belhadj" is unsuited to Libya's "moderate" religion, he said and stressed that Qatar "has no right to interfere in our affairs. We will not accept domination by Qatar or by anyone else."
Interim government leaders in Tripoli and Benghazi dismissed the two militia leaders' statements as unimportant and their threat to derail the next government as "not serious."
But then, the Zintan militia's capture of Qaddafi's son turned the situation on its head.
The militia's field commander Bashir Thaelba made it clear that Saif al Islam must have a fair trial but he would not be surrendered until his militia's terms were met.
The International Criminal Court, which has a warrant out for Sair al Islam's arrest, is sending its prosecutor to Tripoli Monday to determine how and where Qaddafi's son will stand trial. He should not expect quick answers in the current power play among Libya's militias over the wanted man's head.
debkafile's intelligence sources point out that whereas Col. Qaddafi was captured near Sirte and killed on the turf of the Misurata militia, his son has fallen in the hands of another of Libya's key militias, Zintan. Both Misurata and Zintan oppose the NTC heads and are especially unhappy about the Belhadj fundamentalists, former associates of al Qaeda lording it in Tripoli.
This sequence looks like part of the same pattern whereby certain Western forces hope to put obstacles in the path of Mustafa Jalil and his moves to let Belhadj gain control of the capital, especially since the strings of both appear to be pulled by the Emir of Qatar. The power struggle afoot will not just determine the nature of Libya's government but also who controls its oil resources.
The events leading to Saif al-Islam's capture are not fully known. One scenario worth considering is that Qaddafi's eldest son was not captured but surrendered voluntarily to the Zintan militia as part of a deal. After all, he holds the keys to large parts of the Qaddafi family fortune which is salted away around the world. Shelling out funds for the two militias to help them gain high office in the new regime may be part of the deal.