Throughout Sunday and Monday, Libyan rebels reported that, while they were still looking for Gadhafi, they had already captured three of Gadhafi’s sons: Seif al-Islam, Mohammed, and Saadi Gadhafi. In subsequent days, however, the world learned that all of the sons had either escaped from the rebels or never been captured by them in the first place.
On Monday night, Seif al-Islam walked into the Rixos Hotel, a Tripoli hotel where foreign reporters were staying that at the time was under the control of government forces, flashed the “V for victory” sign, and took reporters on a tour of his father’s compound. His appearance confused and embarrassed the rebel leadership.
It was not clear whether Gadhafi’s son, who turned up at the Rixos hotel, where about 30 foreign journalists have been staying under the close watch of regime minders, had escaped from rebel custody or never been captured in the first place. His arrest was announced on Monday by both the rebels and the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court, which has indicted him and his father.
ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said the court never received official confirmation from Libya’s rebel authorities about the arrest.
The rebel leadership — which had said Seif al-Islam was captured without giving details on where he was held — seemed stunned. A rebel spokesman, Sadeq al-Kabir, had no explanation and could only say, “This could be all lies.”
Only hours before, they had made a big show of negotiating with the International Criminal Court in the Hague to hand over Seif so he could face charges of crimes against humanity. Instead, the ICC distanced itself from the rebels and Seif spent the night giving interviews to the foreign press, telling reporters that “we are going to break the backbone of the rebels,” and “the ICC can go to hell.”
He was not the only Gadhafi son who got media coverage. His older brother Mohammed had been placed under house arrest by the rebels on Sunday. At one point, he even called Al-Jazeera and began apologizing to the Libyan people for the excesses of the Gadhafi regime, before suddenly exclaiming, “I’m being attacked right now. This is gunfire inside my house. They’re inside my house,” before abruptly hanging up.
On Monday, though, rebel spokesman al-Kabir told the press that Mohammed had somehow escaped from his house and eluded the rebel soldiers guarding him. Perhaps as a consolation prize, he added that the rebels had successfully captured a third Gadhafi son, Saadi. However, the Libyan ambassador to the United States now says that “the rebels never claimed they had arrested Al-Saadi. We never claimed that he was in our custody.”
All of this backtracking casts severe doubt on the reliability of reports from Libyan rebel fighters and the Transitional National Council headquartered in Benghazi. Some of it can be attributed to the fog of war and the difficulty of communicating news in war-torn Tripoli back to the rebels’ headquarters across the country. Still, the rebels’ tendency to make triumphant statements before they know the actual facts on the ground may not bode well for their future governance.