Gaddafi's Family Escape Libya Net to Cross into Algeria
Libya's new rulers left frustrated by Algerian reports of Gaddafi's wife and three of his children arriving across the border.
By Luke Harding and Martin Chulov in Tripoli, Chris Stephen in Misrata
Monday 29 August 2011
Efforts by Libya's new rulers to bring the Gaddafi clan to justice received a blow on Monday night as it emerged that several family members had managed to flee the country for neighbouring Algeria.
The Algerian foreign ministry said Gaddafi's wife Safiya, daughter Aisha and sons Hannibal and Mohammed and their children had entered Algeria at 8.45am on Monday, according to the state-run APS news agency.
Their fate remains unclear. Rebels have said that if any Gaddafi relatives escape to Algeria they will seek their extradition. But the outcome of such a move would be uncertain. Algeria has refused to recognise the authority of Libya's new governing authority, the National Transitional Council (NTC), and has watched with alarm as autocratic regimes have fallen across the region over the past six months.
Algerian authorities earlier this year crushed an attempt to create a Tunisian-style uprising in Algiers.
Libya's new governing authority says it has no credible information about Muammar Gaddafi's whereabouts. Several of his sons are thought to still be in Tripoli. There were reports on Monday night that another of his sons, Khamis, had been killed in an airstrike south of Tripoli, but this could not be immediately confirmed.
Earlier the NTC justice minister, Mohammed al-Alagi, said the new leadership in Tripoli wanted to try Gaddafi in Libya if he is caught, rather than hand him over to the international criminal court. Alagi said the demands of national justice took precedence over the indictment issued at the end of June by the Hague-based court, seeking the arrest of Gaddafi for crimes against humanity.
The court also issued warrants for two of Gaddafi's top aides – his son and heir apparent Saif al-Islam and his intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanussi. The warrant refers to the early weeks of the conflict in February.
"We consider that the national court and justice system has priority over international justice," the minister said. Asked if he knew where Gaddafi might be hiding, he replied: "We don't comment on security issues, or where he might be."
The whereabouts of Gaddafi's other sons, Saif, Mutassim and Saadi, remain unknown along with that of his second daughter, Hannah, who was thought to have been killed in a US air strike in 1986, but was last week found to be alive and working in a Tripoli hospital.
The director of the Sharwa Zarwa hospital in the centre of the capital told the Guardian that Hannah Gaddafi had ordered staff not to treat wounded rebels during the past six months. "She also stayed here sometimes during the night," said Dr Ghassem Barouni.
Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Arab is thought to have been killed by a Nato strike in April. However, the reappearance of his second daughter after 25 years has left some members of the NTC sceptical about the claim.
The escape to Algeria came after the Egyptian news agency Mena, quoting unidentified rebel fighters, reported that six armoured Mercedes sedans, possibly carrying top regime figures, had crossed the border at the south-western Libyan town of Ghadamis into Algeria. Algeria's foreign ministry denied that report.
Ahmed Jibril, an aide to NTC head Mustafa Abdul Jalil, said if the Gaddafi relatives were in Algeria, "we will demand Algerian authorities hand them over to Libya to be tried before Libyan courts."
Meanwhile, the standoff over the last coastal city still in loyalist hands, Sirte, intensifiedon Monday as the NTC said it was seeking a peaceful solution to the confrontation.
Despite speculation that a battle for Sirte was imminent, the NTC said that it was still attempting to negotiate to avoid bloodshed. It said that similar talks were under way in Sabha, Gaddafi's southern desert stronghold. Together the two cities are the most significant still under the control of Libya's ousted regime. Speaking in Tripoli, Mahmood Shammam, the NTC's information minister, dismissed claims that major military offensives against Sirte and Sabha were about to start.
"We don't know that these two cities are revolting against us. We are negotiating to enter these cities peacefully. We will continue to do so," he said.
He stressed, however, that the rebels would attack the cities – already the target of multiple recent Nato air strikes – if the talks broke down. "If these negotiations fail we will use other means," he warned. Any offensive is unlikely to begin before the end of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, which starts today. The Misrata brigade – likely to lead any fighting – is currently still in Tripoli.
The rebel leadership has a formidable task ahead in restoring vital services in Tripoli and elsewhere and uniting a disparate nation that has been through six months of turmoil. On Monday the first signs of cracks emerged when protests erupted in Misrata against the NTC's decision to appoint a former Gaddafi henchman as security boss of Tripoli.
Media reports said the NTC prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, was poised to appoint Albarrani Shkal, a former army general, as the capital's head of security.
Protests erupted in the early hours in Misrata's Martyr's Square, with about 500 protesters shouting that the "blood of the martyrs" would be betrayed by the appointment.
Misrata's ruling council lodged a formal protest with the NTC, saying if the appointment were confirmed Misratan rebel units on security duties in Tripoli would refuse to follow NTC orders. Misratans blame Shkal for commanding units that battered their way into the city in the spring, terrorising and murdering civilians.
Jibril says he wants to build an inclusive administration. He appears to have the tacit support of London, with the defence secretary, Liam Fox, telling al-Jazeera it was important the NTC avoided excluding members of the former regime. London is believed to be keen to avoid a rerun of Iraq, where a de-Ba'athification programme saw the ruling administration removed and chaos follow the US-led invasion in 2003.