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article imageSaif Gaddafi is free, vows to fight for Tripoli

By Stephen Morgan     Aug 23, 2011 in World
Saif Gaddafi surprised everyone last night by suddenly appearing at the Rixos Hotel. The NTC claims of his capture have been proven untrue. Saif vowed he would fight to the end, while fierce battles continued to rage in many areas of the capital.
Like some surreal apparition, the supposedly incarcerated “Prince of Darkness,” Saif Gaddafi, miraculously appeared in the middle of the night in a white armored SUV. Yesterday, the NTC had declared that he had been captured in a tourist area of Tripoli, without giving further details.
Considered to be the power behind the thrown, Saif's supposed capture was heralded as a body blow for the regime. Unfortunately, this now looks like a rather amateurish and foolish attempt at misinformation or “psy-opps” on the part of the rebel leadership.
Saif arrived smiling and waving to supporters, while holding his arms up and giving V signs for victory. The BBC's Matthew Price said Saif al-Islam “seemed pumped full of adrenalin and brimming with confidence.” He told him that the rebels “had fallen into "a trap" by moving into Tripoli.”
In a brief interview with CNN's Matthew Chance, he said his father and several members of his family were safe in Tripoli and that loyalist troops had "broken the back" of the rebels' revolt. It seemed to suggest that Gaddafi and others were actually still inside the government compound in the heart of the city.
Following the interviews, Reuters said that “he then took journalists to “hotspots” of loyalist control, such as his father's Bab al-Aziziyah stronghold, where he told cheering supporters to "Take up arms today, take up arms today," "Inshallah (God willing) we will attack the rats today." When asked about his indictment for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, he said defiantly that "The ICC can go to hell," "Screw the criminal court."
TIME reported that “The tour went through streets full of armed Gadhafi backers, controlled by roadblocks and into the Gadhafi stronghold neighborhood Bu Slim.” “At Bab al-Aziziya,” it added, “at least a hundred men were waiting in lines for guns being distributed to volunteers to defend the regime.”
BBC correspondents in Tripoli say the situation is extremely fluid and according to Matthew Price, “it is still unclear who is winning the battle.” TIME commented that his reappearance “threw the situation in the capital into confusion” and “underlined the potential for Gadhafi.;..to lash back even as his grip on power seemed to be slipping fast.”
When asked about Saif's reappearance, the NTC refused to comment. Later, a spokesman, Sadeq al-Kabir, said that he couldn't explain the situation and wasn't able to confirm if Saif Gaddafi had escaped from rebel arrest. His only reply was that "This could be all lies."
Confusion within the NTC leadership is nothing new and some members frequently announce things without the knowledge or consent of others on the committee. It may be that one wing of the leadership decided to say that Saif had been capture as a propaganda tool, which others then believed to be true.
If the NTC is now going to claim that Saif escaped, this would anyway be very embarrassing, if not damaging and rather suspicious -- especially as his brother Mohammed Gadhafi did escape from house arrest yesterday. The whereabouts of another son, Saadi Gadhafi, who the rebels claimed to have also arrested, are uncertain as well.
Furthermore, this is not the first time that something like this has happened. The rebels have claimed on two occasions that Saif's brother Khamis was dead, only for him to turn up alive soon after. Yesterday, the rebels made another claim that his charred body and that of the chief of Intelligence, Senussi, had been found killed. Unfortunately, this too must now also be taken with a pinch of salt.
More mysterious still is the fact that the International Criminal Court in the Hague said that it had confirmed his arrest yesterday and would be asking for his extradition. This morning, the office of the prosecutor, which told Reuters that it had confirmed that he was in custody, did not respond to Reuters requests for an explanation. However, one ICC official Fadi el-Abdallah did say that "There was no official confirmation from the National Transitional Council." "Different answers were given. That was a little ambiguous."
The full picture of what has happened has not yet emerged, but the NTC will have some explaining to do. For those reporting on events, it raises the question of whether it is possible to believe the accuracy of any of the rebel reports about the situation in Tripoli generally.
Moreover, the affair may also increase worries about the NTC's ability to lead a new government. It again illustrates amateurishness and divisions. The Guardian quotes Fawas Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics, who says with regard to the affair "The rebels are not functioning as a unfied command and control," saying he did not believe Jalil had knowingly been complicit in any untruths. "They are acting more as desperate militia. It is a de facto government but they haven't grasped this yet."
He went onto say that he thought "the entire operation could have been a "propaganda campaign" by some of the rebels designed to show the Gaddafi dynasty was being annihilated. I don't think he was arrested. I really don't," but he continued it "tells you a great deal about the incompetence of the rebels." Furthermore he added that the mistake might backfire on the rebels. "This is worrisome." It could even, he said, do the opposite of what such a campaign would have been trying to achieve. "His reappearance will likely embolden the remnants of Gaddafi followers. There is potential for Saif to lead a rebellion," Gerges said.
Al Jazeera correspondent, Jacky Rowland, reporting live from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, said that as a result of the incident, "Now we are seeing accusations, doubts, and confusions.” "One rebel fighter told Al Jazeera that he suspected that maybe Saif al-Islam had bribed his way out and he accused the NTC of cutting some sort of a deal. He asked: 'Where is the NTC? Why are they not in Tripoli? We are doing all the hard work, they are back in Benghazi sunbathing or something'.
The fiasco of Saif Gaddafi seems to be becoming a flashpoint for frustration and undercurrents of distrust towards the NTC. As Jacky Rowland concluded "It is going to be interesting to see how the NTC explains this debacle."
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