2011/08/23

And then Kadhafi's son Seif al-Islam arrived...

TRIPOLI, August 23, 2011 (AFP) - "Don't worry, it's an armoured vehicle," the driver tells the three reporters in the back of the BMW as they set off to interview Seif al-Islam, whom Libyan rebels claimed they had arrested.

Being invited to interview the influential son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi was surprising enough as the world was told he had fallen into the hands of the rebels when they surged into Tripoli on Sunday in a final drive to oust his father.

Even more baffling was that International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had confirmed the arrest and said he was in discussions with Libya's opposition to secure the Seif's transfer to the ICC, where he faces charges of crimes against humanity.

Driving through the darkened streets of the capital, which the rebels claim is 95 percent under their control, merely adds to the sense of mystery.

With little lighting due to power cuts, the empty streets where fighting had raged on Sunday and Monday between rebels and Kadhafi's forces look unfamiliar and foreboding.

During what turns out to be a trip of just two kilometres (over a mile) -- between the Hotel Rixos where many foreign media are housed and Kadhafi's Bab al-Azizya compound -- the driver becomes erratic, sometimes snuffing the headlights, other times accelerating wildly, or suddenly slowing.

Finally the vehicle arrives at one of the entrances to Kadhafi's sprawling residence, which bears the ragged scars of repeated bombings by the warplanes of NATO, which is backing Libya's rebellion.

The driver is forced to drive on the pavement to avoid a concrete barrier.

The guards open the gates. The journalists are in the heart of Bab al-Aziziya where rumours are circulating of imminent fresh bombings by NATO jets.

Dozens of pickups and 4x4s, on which machineguns or anti-aircraft guns are mounted, line the route.

The car eventually stops in front of the "house of resistance" -- the ruins of a building bombed in 1996 by American warplanes in raids which killed Kadhafi's adopted daughter.

Several dozen regime supporters, thinking Kadhafi's son has come, begin chanting slogans and waving the Libyan flag.

"Allah, Moamer, Libya and that's it," they chant, brandishing pictures of Seif and his father before peering into the vehicle and finding journalists, but still not moving away from the car.

Seif, sporting a khaki T-shirt, arrives in an armoured 4x4.

"Get in, quickly" one of the men accompanying him tells the journalists pointing to another 4x4.

The vehicles stop after a few hundred metres next to an empty field lit by lamps.

Everyone gets out and Seif accompanied by his guards goes into the meeting with the journalists.

Some loyalists attach a green Libyan flag behind the chair where Seif is to sit. On a coffee table, they place a small Libyan flag, a Koran and a copy of Kadhafi's Green Book, the 1975 text in which he laid out his philosophy.

"Did you see the fighting today?" Seif asks with a smile.

"No we only heard the sound" of fighting, replied one of the journalists, who like about 30 other members of the foreign media are confined to a hotel which has been deserted by staff and has seen no electricity or water for two days.