The British-educated son of Col Muammar Gaddafi has been sentenced to death by firing squad by a court in war-torn Libya after found guilty of war crimes.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the debonair friend of Lord Mandelson and other European notables who returned to his father’s side during the 2011 revolution, was found guilty of war crimes by a court in the capital Tripoli.
He had appeared at hearings by video-link, as he was captured – in late 2011 – by a militia from the town of Zintan, which is fighting Tripoli-based brigades in the country’s civil war.
Also sentenced to death were Col Gaddafi’s notorious security chief and brother-in-law, Abdullah Senussi, accused by some of masterminding the Lockerbie bombing, and his prime minister, Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi. They appeared in person, having been extradited before security collapsed in Libya from neighbouring countries.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was the most western-oriented of Col Gaddafi’s eight children, and took a PhD from the London School of Economics – part of which he was subsequently accused of plagiarising. He spent several years abroad, and argued for political reform at home.
After the “deal in the desert” with British prime minister Tony Blair, he was allowed to put some of those reforms, mainly economic, into practice. He also oversaw one or two more independent newspapers.
However, when the revolution started he took the side of his father, and gave a television address in which he wagged his finger aggressively at the rebels, calling them “rats”. In subsequent weeks, western media allowed into Tripoli were invited to interview him, and he harangued gatherings of young Gaddafi loyalists.
His television speech and one such harangue formed part of the case against him, the court arguing that he had incited murder. The International Criminal Court had urged Libya to hand him over for trial in the Hague, saying he could not get a fair trial at home, but that was refused.
Senussi masterminded some of the worst crimes of the Gaddafi era, in particular the shooting dead of an alleged 1,200 prisoners at Abu Salim jail in Tripoli in 1996. He was also found guilty in absentia by a French court for ordering the bombing of UTA Flight 772 over Niger, which killed 170 people in 1989. A Libyan dissident was on board.
The similarity to the bombing of Pan-Am 103 over Lockerbie the previous December led many to allege he also organised that attack.