Africa

Libya conflict: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi re-emerges

  • 23 August 2011
  • From the section Africa

We were woken in the dead of night, by a sharp knock at the door.

Saif al-Islam - Col Muammar Gaddafi's second son, and his preferred successor - was here, at our hotel.

The day before rebels had said they had arrested him. The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, who has indicted him, confirmed this.

And now he was here?

Was this another trick, another ploy by government supporters, I wondered, as I stumbled downstairs in the dark. The power was out, it had been since mid-afternoon.

Outside the door slammed on a large white armoured vehicle. I could not see through the blacked-out windows.

'Trap'

"BBC, could we have a word," I shouted, I thought in vain.

But then, as I and another correspondent pressed for them to open the door, it swung open.

Inside, astonishingly, a smiling Saif al-Islam, a mobile phone next to him on the central console of the vehicle. This war has twists and turns.

"Where do you think the balance of power lies in the battle for Tripoli," I asked.

"We broke the backbone of the rebels," he said. "It was a trap. We gave them a hard time. So we are winning."

Precisely who is winning the battle for Tripoli, though, is still unclear.

In parts of the capital, rebel forces are in control. After their astonishing advance over the weekend, they believe victory is within sight.

But pro-Gaddafi troops have been reinforced. A convoy of vehicles was seen driving north past our hotel. Inside were professional soldiers, loyal to Col Gaddafi.

Some rebel supply lines into the city seem to have come under attack. Perhaps this is what Saif al-Islam meant when he said "it was a trap."

In other towns and cities during this conflict, the rebels have advanced only to find themselves surrounded by pro-Gaddafi troops.

That may now be happening in parts of Tripoli. It is clear loyalists are fighting back in some areas - and many casualties are being reported.

A nurse in the city told the BBC that she was seeing horrific injuries because of the fighting.

Saif al-Islam was asked whether his father is safe and well and in Tripoli. "Yes of course," came the reply - almost with a shrug as if it were obvious his father would not have left the capital.

He flashed that smile again. "Let's go, let's go," he shouted.

The door closed, and off went Saif al-Islam, pumped full of adrenalin, brimming with confidence, and still smiling.