Militias of the Libyan Revolution have arrested Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah Sanusi, Muammar Gaddafi’s two most prominent associates remaining at large.
Saif is 39, Gaddafi’s second son and the eldest by his present wife. He had no formal government position but had been involved more actively than his brothers in Libyan affairs since the late 1990s, becoming the figurehead and perhaps the leader of the slow process of reform or normalisation. He was regarded as personally corrupt, but he made some steps towards opening up the media, and even tackled more sensitive questions of human rights such as prison reform and the rehabilitation of Islamic militants jailed without trial. His image as the acceptable face of the regime was destroyed at the beginning of the revolution by his fire-eating speeches.
Sanusi is 61, and Gaddafi’s brother-in-law (their wives are sisters). Regarded by Libyans since the 1970s as a brutal enforcer, he was successively head of internal security and head of intelligence. He is accused of being involved in the regime’s crimes from at least as early as 1980. He was convicted in absentia in a French court for the bombing of a French airliner in 1989 in which 171 people were killed, and he is also believed to have been responsible for the massacre of 1200 prisoners in Abu Salim prison in 1996.
Both men have been indicted by the International Criminal Court, charged with crimes against humanity. Details have still to be inked in, but they relate to this year’s events, and to reports that they were responsible for such crimes as murdering civilians. They are likely to be brought to trial in Libya, however, and if so they will face very different charges relating to the period before the revolution.
In Saif’s case the main issue is likely to be corruption: the court will want to know what happened to the billions of dollars handled by the Gaddafi Foundation which he ran as his personal empire. In Sanusi’s case, the list of charges will be endless: as well as the two massacres I’ve already mentioned, the many other crimes he’s likely to be accused of include the murder of the Shia leader Musa Sadr and, of special interest to Britain, the Lockerbie bombing, the murder of Yvonne Fletcher and supporting the IRA.
Outside Libya, Saif is likely to hog the headlines. He was a celebrity, hobnobbing with the likes of Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair and Nat Rothschild. Saif’s trial ‘could prove highly embarrassing for influential British figures – including Prince Andrew and Tony Blair – if he reveals details of the close links he enjoyed with them,’ the Mail reported. Because he was publicly associated with the release of Megrahi from a Scottish prison in 2009 it is often assumed that he must know the truth about Lockerbie, and perhaps other crimes of the 1980s. That seems unlikely, given how young he was at the time, unless his father was given to gossiping about such matters around the campfire.
Sanusi, however, is more likely than anyone else to know where the bodies are buried – literally, in some cases. Whether he will spill the beans remains to be seen, but unless he makes some very startling revelations, he is unlikely to get as much attention outside Libya as Saif.