It may be the beginning of the end for Moammar Qaddafi’s regime, but we haven’t quite reached the end of the beginning yet. When the rebels entered Tripoli, they announced they had captured two of the dictator’s sons, Saif and Mohammed. Both of them have apparently either escaped, bribed their way past guards, avoided capture entirely, or taken advantage of the new Libyan government’s extremely lenient early release program.
Time reports on Saif Qaddafi’s flashy appearance before the journalist-infested Rixos Hotel:
But on Tuesday Saif hardly looked like a prisoner, or for that matter even a hunted man. Just as he has done on many nights during the six-month conflict, he drove his SUV up to the doorstep of Tripoli’s Rixos Hotel, a wooded resort where foreign journalists have been required to stay under tight government control.
The 38-year-old Saif — a notorious night owl — hopped out, flashing V-for-victory signs, and offered to drive reporters around Gaddafi-held neighborhoods, saying “we’re going to hit the hottest spots in Tripoli.” “I’m here to refute all the rumors and reports,” he said, dressed in an army-green T-shirt and sporting a wartime beard. “You have seen how the Libyan people rose up yesterday,” he said, without saying whether or not he had been in rebel custody.
The UK Guardian takes up the narrative of Saif’s big night from there:
“You have seen how the Libyan people rose up together, men and women, to break the backbone of the rebels, rats and gangs yesterday and today,” he was reported to have said.
He then took reporters on a drive in an armoured convoy through areas of the city still under the regime’s control including the Gaddafi family compound and military barracks where scores of men waited to receive guns to join the fighting.
“We are going to hit the hottest spots in Tripoli,” he said.
Only yesterday, the International Criminal Court confirmed Saif’s capture, and announced its desire to extradite him for trial at the Hague. He’s wanted for crimes against humanity, and is said to have been a key figure in the bloody crackdown that prompted NATO intervention in Libya. Saif Qaddafi doesn’t seem to have a lot of respect for the international courts:
Asked about the ICC indictment, he said: “Screw the criminal court.”
During the tour of the regime-controlled parts of the city, he offered a rambling explanation for the rebels’ swift success in seizing much of Tripoli in part by accusing Nato and the west of an electronic assault.
“They sent text messages to the Libyan people through the Libyana [mobile phone] network. They stopped our broadcast transmission. They perpetuated an electronic and media war in order to spread chaos and fear in Libya. Also they brought gangs from the sea and by car to Tripoli,” he told AP television.
Meanwhile, the oldest of the Qaddafi boys, Mohammed, was apparently captured during a phone call to the al-Jazeera network, which the Atlantic describes as “an apparent – but ultimately unfinished – apology to the Libyan people for his country’s deterioration under Qaddafi’s rule.”
Largely sidelined from the regime — whether by his own choosing or by his father’s is unclear — Mohammed greatest height of power was running the Libyan Olympic Committee. But he was close enough to see that leadership unfold, and he seemed ready to tell the world of his disapproval and his regret.
“Thankfully the Libyan people know who I am. I’ve always worked with honesty and integrity for humanity and for my nation,” he said. “I’ve never been aggressive to anyone and have always wanted the best for all Libyans. In the past and also for the future. I’ve never been a government or a security official. However I can tell you the absence of wisdom and foresight is what brought us here today. Our differences could have been solved very easily.”
The conversation was interrupted by gunfire. Soon afterward, the rebels announced Mohammed and his family were in custody, and Mo got in a quick follow-up phone call to al-Jazeera to assure them he was safe. Now it appears that he, too, has escaped from house arrest, or was possibly freed by regime forces.
Fox News reports “fierce street battles” throughout Tripoli, marked by “heavy gunfire and explosions.” Regime loyalists are said to be “re-energized” by Saif Qaddafi’s reappearance. He’s been touring regime-controlled areas, pumping up morale, passing out guns, and refining his critique of the International Criminal Court:
At Bab al-Aziziya, at least a hundred men were waiting in lines for guns being distributed to volunteers to defend the regime. Saif al-Islam shook hands with supporters, beaming and flashing the “V for victory” sign.
“We are here. This is our country. This is our people, and we live here, and we die here,” he told AP Television News. “And we are going to win, because the people are with us. That’s why were are going to win. Look at them — look at them, in the streets, everywhere!”
When asked about the ICC’s claim that he was arrested by rebels, he told reporters: “The ICC can go to hell,” and added “We are going to break the backbone of the rebels.”
A third of the dictator’s sons, soccer player and special-forces commander Saadi Qaddafi, is apparently still in custody, although his captors should probably check to make sure the lump under his blanket isn’t just a couple of pillows and a cocoanut.
There’s no sign of gang leader Moammar “Frizz-Head” Qaddafi, but his forces are still organized enough to fire three Scud missiles at the rebel city of Misrata, apparently launching them from the vicinity of Qaddafi’s hometown in Sirte. We’ll soon learn if the rebel surge was due to an improvement in their fighting ability, or the accuracy of the NATO pilots who can’t do much more to help them, now that the battle for Tripoli is being fought street by street.