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Saif al-Islam Qaddafi wants plane to surrender; Tunisia frees ex-PM al-Baghdadi

Muammar Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam wants an aircraft to take him out of Libya’s southern desert so he can turn himself in to the International Criminal Court (ICC), a National Transitional Council source said on Thursday, while it emerged that a group of South African mercenaries are still looking after Saif al-Islam.

“Saif is concerned about his safety,” the NTC source said. “He believes handing himself over is the best option for him,” Reuters reported.

The source also said Saif al-Islam, 39, wanted the involvement of a third country − possibly Algeria or Tunisia − in a deal to get him to The Hague. “He wants to be sent an aircraft,” the source said by telephone from Libya. “He wants assurances.”

Saif al-Islam’s whereabouts and intentions had been tracked by monitoring satellite phone calls, the source said, alongside information contained in intelligence cables.

He went on the run at about the time his father met a grisly death a week ago at the hands of Libyan rebel fighters. Both he and Libya’s ex-intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, also on the run, have indicated they are ready to surrender to justice, NTC officials have said.

They face charges of crimes against humanity for their response to February’s uprising.

Reports that Al-Senussi passed from Niger into Mali were circulated on Thursday by security sources from both countries.

“Abdullah al-Senussi has arrived in the Malian desert, from Niger,” where he was believed to be hiding under the protection of some Tuaregs, a Niger security source said on condition of anonymity.

The information was confirmed by a security source from northern Mali, who said Senoussi was travelling with a small group.

It was not known if Saif al-Islam was travelling with the group.

South African mercenaries, who allegedly took part in Muammar Qaddafi’s failed escape bid, are still “taking care of Saif al-Islam,” the Beeld newspaper said Thursday.

The South Africans were hired by a company with close ties to Qaddafi, training his presidential guard and handling some of his offshore financial dealings, the Afrikaans-language paper said.

South Africans have also reportedly been involved in transporting Qaddafi’s gold, diamonds and foreign currency to Niger, and helping his wife and three of children flee Tripoli, the paper said.

Niger obliged to cooperate with ICC in bringing Saif to justice

Niger has an obligation to co-operate in bringing to justice Libyan fugitives Saif al-Islam and Abdullah al-Senussi, wanted by the International Criminal Court, a court spokesman said late Wednesday.

“There is definitely an obligation on Niger to co-operate as it is a state party to the Rome Statute,” the ICC’s founding document, said Fadi al-Abdallah.

But he slapped down media reports suggesting either man wanted to hand himself over to the ICC, saying he had “no information or confirmation.”

“It is something we would have to follow up with the Council,” al-Abdallah told AFP, referring to Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC).

Slain Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s son and one-time heir apparent, Saif al-Islam was on Tuesday poised to cross into Niger along with Senussi, his father’s ex-intelligence chief, a Tuareg official said.

An official of the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) said earlier Wednesday that Saif al-Islam had proposed surrendering to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has indicted him for war crimes, Reuters reported.

The two are the most wanted fugitives from the slain despot’s ousted circle and are wanted by the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity, committed after the start of the uprising against Qaddafi’s regime in mid-February. The ICC issued arrest warrants against the three on June 27.

Both are widely expected to seek refuge in Niger following Qaddafi’s death last week.

Surrender by 39-year-old Saif al-Islam would close another chapter in the four-decade history of Qaddafi family rule, as the United Nations discusses an end to its Libyan mandate that allowed NATO to bomb the country and help rebels to take power.

Any surrender would mark a U-turn by Saif al-Islam, an internationally well-connected philanthropist and liberal reformer who turned abruptly into a soldier ready to die rather than capitulate when rebels rose up against his father.

“We fight here in Libya; we die here in Libya,” he told Reuters Television in an interview earlier this year.

He now appears to prefer the prospect of a Dutch prison cell rather than risk falling into the hands of NTC forces.

Libya’s southern neighbor, which for years was one of the west African countries that benefited most from Qaddafi’s largesse, is already sheltering dozens of former regime officials, including another of Qaddafi’s sons.

Qaddafi, who lorded over the oil-rich north African nation for 42 years, met a violent end on Thursday following his capture by fighters of Libya’s new regime.

France may demand Senussi’s extradition if he is arrested by Niamey, since a Paris court sentenced him in absentia to life in prison for the 1989 bombing of a French UTA airliner that claimed 170 lives.

So far 32 members of Qaddafi’s entourage including his playboy former footballer son Saadi have taken refuge in Niger for “humanitarian” reasons.

Also among them are three generals and the head of Qaddafi’s personal bodyguards, Mansur Daou, according to the authorities who say they are under surveillance but have not been detained.

Tunisia frees former Libyan prime minister Al-Baghdadi

A Tunisian court, meanwhile, has freed former Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi despite an extradition request from Libyan authorities, his lawyer said on Thursday.

“The court ruled to free him from prison,” Mabrouk Korchid told Reuters. Confirming the report, a judicial source said al-Mahmoudi was now a free man.

Mahmoudi fled Libya to neighboring Tunisia soon after the rule of Muammar Qaddafi collapsed in August and had gone on hunger strike in protest against his possible extradition.

Al-Mahmoudi, Libyan prime minister from 2006, is the highest-ranking member of Qaddafi’s administration now in detention. During the civil war this year, he gave televised briefings defending Qaddafi and accusing NATO of deliberately killing civilians.