Where are the Gaddafi boys?

By Khadija Patel 24 October 2011

After a coroner’s report revealed Muammar Gaddafi died of a gunshot wound to the head, Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) announced on Sunday that they would hand over the former Libyan leader’s body to his extended family. It is unclear exactly who is brave enough to own up to being a relative of the Colonel. The Gaddafis have already paid a hefty price for the pomp and privilege the Gaddafi name had afforded. By KHADIJA PATEL.

In early 1999, I was 15 when Gaddafi’s eldest son Mohammed visited Al Madina in Saudi Arabia on his way to perform the “umrah”, or minor pilgrimage, in nearby Makkah. He took residence in the royal suite, one floor beneath my family’s holiday residence in the Green Palace Hotel. The hotel was a flurry of activity as everybody from the doormen to the general manager scurried around to adequately cater to the whim of little Gaddafi. I remember the feeling of relief that descended on the hotel when he did eventually leave. I remember too the confusion that gripped the hotel when he returned to the hotel just two hours later. He had experienced a change of heart on the way to the airport and would be staying another night yet. Mohammed, like his brothers, was well known to have inherited their father’s flair for the ridiculous.

Mohammed was Gaddafi’s only child from his first marriage. He was president of the country’s Olympic Committee and ran Libya’s telephone network. He is reported to have used position in the telephone network to eavesdrop on anti-Gaddafi activists and put them in jail. As the fog of war begins to lift, Mohammed has been far luckier than his father. When the NTC forces stormed Tripoli in August, they claimed Mohammed had surrendered and was under house arrest; but just days later, Algerian authorities announced that Mohammed had fled there.

While Gaddafi’s rotting corpse lies on the floor of a butcher in Misrata, Mohammed, as well as Gaddafi’s wife Saffiyah, called for an international investigation into the circumstances surrounding Gaddafi’s death and demanded that his remains be returned to the family for burial.

Along with his brother Hannibal, his sister Aisha and their children, Mohammed has so far enjoyed the protection of the Algerian government. Aisha, an attorney and a UN Human Rights ambassador, was well known for leading the unsuccessful defence of Saddam Hussein. A beautiful, articulate woman, she was popularly known as the Claudia Schiffer of North Africa. Hannibal however is best known for beating up staff at a Geneva hotel. The NTC has previously said that it will seek to extradite any Gaddafi relatives who escape to Algeria, but the outcome of such a move remains unclear.

Mohammed is said to have had a factious relationship with his father and is believed to have been disinclined towards a political position that would see him succeed his father. Hannibal meanwhile was said to have lacked the requisite finesse to be a statesman in the mould of his father.  

Mohammed Muammar al-Gaddafi, the eldest son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, graduates with a PhD in Engineering and Management from Liverpool University in 2006. REUTERS.

In recent years Gaddafi’s family life was characterised by jealousy and greed. His sons jostled for positions and stakes in the country’s best earning enterprises. The greatest rivalry between the Gaddafi children was between Saif-al-Islam and Mutassim. According to a 2009 US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, Mutassim had “turbid relations” with his father. So embittered was he towards his father that he spent a number of years away from his family in Egypt. In 2006, he returned to Libya to serve as Libya’s National Security Advisor – a position created especially for him. In April 2009, Mutassim met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, the highest-level diplomatic exchange between Libya and the United States since they resumed diplomatic ties several years earlier.

Mutassim’s corpse now lies beside his father’s in Misrata. The NTC militia captured him while he hid in a drainage hole under a road on the outskirts of Sirte with Gaddafi. Their convoy, which was fleeing the town, was struck by Nato fighter jets and overrun by NTC forces. The last amateur video of Mutassim, shows him alive in custody. The photos and videos released depict the captured Mutassim sitting against a wall, drinking water, smoking and even speaking to his captors. He is apparently injured as his vest is stained with blood but his life does not seem in danger. He is also pictured lying on a sofa. In other images, however, Mutassim is shown sprawled out on the floor, dead. The circumstances of his death remain unclear.

Mutassim’s brother and arch rival Saif-al-Islam is a fugitive from the International Criminal Court and so far, has appeared to have escaped the fate of his brother and father. The NTC have claimed to have captured Saif every day since last Thursday but are yet to corroborate proof of their claims. On Sunday, NTC representatives told Reuters fighters had been deployed around a place south of the town of Bani Walid where they believed Saif al-Islam was hiding following his flight from Sirte on Thursday. Intriguingly, Guma El-Gamaty, the NTC’s UK coordinator, claimed via Twitter on Sunday evening that “Saif Gadhafi is trying with help of his aid Abdurrahman Karfakh to escape by sea (to) Greece (and) hand himself to ICC!” Other NTC sources claim Saif-al-Islam was executed on Thursday yet others believe he is on his way to Niger.

If he does indeed make it to Niger, he will join his brother Saadi in Niamey. Saadi fled to Niger last month, where the government has so far refused to extradite him if there was a possibility he would not get a fair trial or risked getting the death penalty. Saadi, who attempted to negotiate with the NTC in late August after its fighters swept through Tripoli, had a brief and undistinguished career with several Italian soccer clubs and also captained the Libyan national team, whose coach was once fired for not selecting him. He then proceeded to Hollywood where he tried his hand at financing films. On Sunday, his lawyer Nick Kaufman said in an email sent to Reuters that Saadi is “shocked and outraged by the vicious brutality” shown towards his father and brother Mutassim and said it showed no one connected to the former government would receive a fair trial in Libya. “The contradictory statements issued by the NTC excusing these barbaric executions and the grotesque abuse of the corpses make it clear that no person affiliated with the former regime will receive a fair trial in Libya, nor will they receive justice for crimes committed against them.”

Like Saadi, his brother Saif al-Arab, who was killed in a Nato bombing raid on Tripoli, had a colourful reputation in Europe. He studied engineering in Germany and was reported to have been involved in a fight at a Munich nightclub with a bouncer who tried to throw out his female companion after she began to undress on the dance floor. He was also said to have enlisted the services of a Bosnian hitman to avenge the slight by the bouncer, but escaped being charged.

Another of Gaddafi’s sons, Khamis, has also been a victim of the war. Khamis played a leading role in Gaddafi’s effort to crush the revolt as commander of the 32nd Brigade, one of Libya’s best equipped units. As a boy he was wounded in a 1986 US bombing of Tripoli; he was reported killed at least three times during this year’s conflict. However, a Syrian-based television station that had been in communication with Gaddafi, confirmed that Khamis had died in fighting southeast of Tripoli on 29 August.

As the fog of war continues to cloak Libya, uncertainty continues to reign. It is unclear whether the remnants of the pro-Gaddafi army will continue fighting without the Colonel, and whether his surviving sons have enough support to become leaders of an insurgency, should it emerge. For now, however, the charmed lives they once led have met an abrupt end. DM

Read more:

  • The Good Bad Son, in New York Magazine;
  • The Qaddafi Family Scrapbook, in Foreign Policy;
  • Gaddafi’s children in exile, on the run, or dead, on Reuters
  • Gaddafi’s corpse continues to attract impatient Misrata hordes, in The Guardian; and
  • Colonel Gaddafi dead: the fate of the Libyan despot’s family, in The Mirror.

Watch more:

Main photo: Combination picture of Muammar Gaddafi’s sons Saadi (L) and Saif al-Islam. Reuters.


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