By Oliver Miles
Summary: little sign of Qadhafi loyalism since 2011, but Libya may be reduced to clutching at straws. Where is the family now?
In the chaotic situation which has developed in Libya since the overthrow of Qadhafi in 2011, with three currently competing “governments” and power in reality exercised by a myriad armed groups ranging from the self-styled “national army” to local strongmen and organised or disorganised crime, there has been little evidence of any hard core of Qadhafi loyalists comparable with the Saddam loyalists who were said to have played a big part in Iraq after 2003.
The only notable exception may have been in the Tuareg in the far south, marginal to the main areas of conflict in Tripoli, Benghazi and the north.
The reported unexplained release of Saif al-Qadhafi , the most prominent of Qadhafi’s sons and by far the most famous outside Libya, has led to some speculation that the family and its supporters may have some political part to play (similarly some reports have suggested a role for Prince Muhammad al-Sanusi and other members of the Royal family deposed by Qadhafi in 1969).
Saif had been held in Zintan (in the mountains 100 miles south of Tripoli) by a local militia which arrested him six years ago.
He has been regularly in the news, notably when a visit to him in prison by an ICC mission in 2012 ended in fiasco, and has been reportedly released at least once before.
He has been condemned to death, appearing at the court hearing in Tripoli by video link, and is still wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity in 2011.
The militia holding him said that he was released at the request of the Tobruk-based government.
According to his lawyer he is “headed to another Libyan city that he could not name for security reasons”. He said Saif could play an important part in national reconciliation efforts, claiming that he was popular in Libya (but the municipal and military authorities in Zintan have condemned his release by the militia which was holding him saying that it had “nothing to do with legal procedures, but is collusion and betrayal of the blood of the martyrs and the military institution that they claim to belong to”).
Some reports suggest that Saif’s release was ordered by the “Libyan National Army” commanded by Field Marshal Haftar.
Despite UN and other action (by the EU and by Libya) to freeze Qadhafi assets, Saif may have access to large amounts of money, possibly even hundreds of millions of dollars. But he will have to be careful to avoid arrest on the ICC charges, which means that his activities will probably be limited to Libya and perhaps Egypt.
Qadhafi had one son Muhammad by his first wife and six sons (of whom the eldest is Saif) and a daughter by his second, Safia Farkash.
There may be others, and he reportedly adopted two, one of whom he claimed was killed in the US bombing raid on Tripoli in 1986. Three of the sons, Khamis, Saif al-Arab and Mu’tasim died in the 2011 revolution.
al-Saidi, next in line after Saif, is still on trial in Tripoli for murder (in his glory days he reportedly murdered the coach of a rival football team).
He was detained in Hadba prison along with other Qadhafi regime prisoners including Abdullah Sanusi (see below) until last week when the prison was seized by the “Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigade”; the prisoners are reportedly held temporarily in the Radisson Blue hotel where some of them were treated to an Iftar (Ramadan breakfast) meal by the brigade commander.
The ones who got away – Muhammad (who ran Libya telecoms under Qadhafi and had a relatively clean reputation, the only son by Qadhafi’s first wife Khairiya al-Nuri), Hannibal (“the cannibal”), Aisha (“Libya’s Claudia Schiffer” who ran a charity which gave a medal to the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at George W. Bush) – and their mother Safia Farkash have all remained silent since moving to Oman in October 2012.
Media reports said the family were asked to leave Algeria after Aisha started setting fire to things. Other reports said the family were told to leave after Aisha ignored requests by the Algerian authorities not to give interviews criticising the revolution against her father – she kept calling for a violent counter-revolution. In March 2017 an EU Court lifted a travel ban against Aisha.
Safia Farkash has been involved in legal action in Malta over assets belonging to her late son Mu’tasim. Her lawyer claims Safia has a right to some of the wealth as her late son had an heir by his hitherto unknown wife Lisa van Goinga, described as a Dutch glamour model.
So far no proof of marriage or paternity has been presented in court. Under Islamic law, van Goinga would be entitled to one-eighth of her alleged husband’s wealth; her son would inherit the lion’s share. The case raises complicated questions about frozen assets as well as inheritance, explored in a Maltese report at link.
Abdullah al-Sanusi, Qadhafi’s intelligence/security chief and brother-in-law (married to the sister of Safia Farkash) has been sentenced to death.
Amal Clooney has been involved in his defence.
He fled Libya after Qadhafi’s downfall and was arrested as he flew into Mauritania from Morocco on a false passport in 2012. He is suspected of a multitude of crimes including giving the order for the massacre of 1,200 political inmates in Abu Salim prison in 1996. He has also been condemned in absentia by a French court for the bombing of the UTA airliner in 1989 in which 170 died.
Finally, Musa Kusa, not family but very close to Qadhafi, is reportedly working for Saudi intelligence, having deserted Qadhafi during the 2011 fighting and taken refuge in Qatar, via a short stay in London.
He is widely suspected of involvement in murder of opponents of Qadhafi during his time as head of Libyan external intelligence, but also played an important and positive part in the removal of Qadhafi’s weapons of mass destruction and in collaboration with US and UK intelligence on al-Qa’ida after 9/11.
Oliver Miles, CMG, is the former British ambassador to Libya, Luxembourg and Greece. He has been a regular visitor to the Middle East since 1959 and is the deputy chairman of the Libyan British Business Council.