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Rebels pledge to try Saif in their mountain stronghold
BY DAMIEN MCELROY, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH MAY 2, 2012
The Libyan commander holding Saif al-Islam Gadhafi has declared he will stage a trial of the dictator's son in the remote mountaintop town where he has been held since his capture last November.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is demanding the extradition of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's presumed heir to The Hague to face war crimes charges for giving orders to kill unarmed civilians during the uprising against his father's regime.
Libya is appealing for the right to stage Saif's trial in a Libyan courthouse. Osama al-Jueili, Libya's defence minister and head of the militia holding Saif in the town of Zintan, added to confusion over his fate by insisting that his prisoner would face trial in his town, not the capital Tripoli. "I think he will be tried in Zintan," Mr Jueili told The Daily Telegraph. "Zintan is part of Libya, the country where the crimes he is charged with were committed. In the history of war crimes it is not necessary to hold these courts in the capital."
The comments will exacerbate fears that Saif will face victor's justice and inevitable execution.
Despite serving as defence minister in Libya's transitional government, Mr Jueili poured scorn on suggestions that secure facilities could be constructed in Tripoli to conduct a trial.
"Libya is facing a very dangerous period where the enemies of stability are unknown but are in front of us. In this situation we submit Saif to the prosecutor but we also insist on his security," he said.
Zintan's leadership has established an elaborate mechanism to protect 39-year-old Saif from potential attack. The only outsiders to see him must be granted permission by Abdelaziz al-Hasadi, Libya's prosecutor general. But access is so zealously guarded that Saif has not met a defence lawyer. Only the ICC, Red Cross, his doctors and a human rights campaigner have successfully secured meetings.
A dusty outpost stretching along a ridge of the Nafusa mountains 150 miles south of Tripoli, Zintan's most prominent features are an old Italian villa and brutalist telecommunication tower.
The town, which has a population of 16,000, briefly boasted a hotel last August when it was the main staging post for attacks on the fraying coastal defences of Gaddafi's regime, but even that has reverted to its former use as a private medical clinic.
The rudimentary facilities would not bear the strains of a trial that would attract dozens of legal observers and an international media onslaught.
"A trial of this importance and complexity requires experienced jurists to ensure compliance with international standards," said Fred Abrahams, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who met Saif in December. "The Zintanis shouldn't still be holding Saif al-Islam, let alone trying him."
But local officials are keen to stress its advantages over the chaos of the capital.
"We think we have proved to the world that Saif is safe in our hands and this is very important for Libya," said a spokesman for Zintan's government. "Saif must be tried in Libya, not killed. We in Zintan are showing the world that Libya is a democracy."
Saif, a graduate of the London School of Economics, is frequently moved between a handful of facilities that boast modern furnishings, adequate catering and exercise suites. He has access to reading materials, but is not allowed television, computers or Internet.
Ahmad Ammar, the leader of the unit that captured Saif, said he remained determined to stand by the pledge he made when seizing the dictator's son in the Obari oasis in southern Libya last year. "I stood in front of him with a gun in my hand and I said, 'understand this is no longer your time or your father's time. If you do so and submit to your conditions, no one will harm you.' He has done and I will keep my side of the bargain."