And as a mob outside bayed for his blood, he even found time to worry
about the dangers of passive smoking.
The man who for years was seen as the leading pro-Western reformer
within the Gaddafi camp said little to Reuters journalists who
travelled in the Libyan air force transport plane that took him from
the desert where he was captured to the town of Zintan, south of
Tripoli, on Saturday.
An audio recording, however, picked up some of the conversations on
the tarmac in Zintan between him, his captors and the men he was
travelling with when he was caught.
Having spent most of the flight staring out of the window with his
back to the other passengers, Saif al-Islam, dressed in flowing Tuareg
robes and traditional desert turban, spoke more freely when a crowd
surrounded the plane after landing.
“I’m staying here. They’ll empty their guns into me the second I go
out there,” he said as hundreds of men thronged round the aircraft,
fired in the air in celebration and climbed on the fuselage, even
trying to prise a door open.
His reluctance to disembark was hardly surprising a month after his
father was captured by revolutionary fighters, beaten abused and
But it was in stark contrast to his aggressive posture during Libya’s
civil war, when he called the fighters who eventually toppled his
father “rats” and promised to crush their rebellion.
“I knew it. I knew that there would be a big crowd,” he said, peeking
out through curtains at the jubilant Zintanis before recoiling in
apparent terror. At another moment, his guards tried to assure him
word of his capture had not leaked.
No problem dying
“If I knew this was what would happen, I should have rammed my head
through the window,” the 39-year-old added in the darkness of the bare
metal fuselage, where the portholes were covered for his protection.
He appeared to be referring back to the moment when he was caught in
the early hours, in a car.
Between such bouts of fear, while the crowd outside chanted “God is
greatest”, the younger Gaddafi seemed to regain his mettle. Shortly
after saying he expected to be shot on sight, he said he was not
afraid of being killed.
“I have no problem with that,” he said.
Saif al-Islam, indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes
against humanity but now the object of Libyans’ desire for a trial on
home soil, later seemed to express concern for the safety of his four
companions, saying he would rather wait on the tarmac for things to
calm down before leaving.
“I’d rather we stayed an hour or two and left safely so that none of
the people with me get hurt,” he said. His plane eventually waited on
the runway for three hours before he was taken to a safe house in
Zintan, exposed briefly to a crowd of people trying to slap him as he
left the aircraft.
Although he clearly seemed to fear for his life and those of his men,
Saif al-Islam also seemed worried about the dangers of passive
smoking, and at one point seemed torn between the need to keep the mob
out and to get fresh air into the plane.
When men in the plane lit up cigarettes, Saif al-Islam told them they
were putting his life at risk: “The plane’s sealed and we’ll
suffocate,” he said. “We’re going to choke to death.”
When one of the others suggested opening the door for ventilation,
however, he appeared to think the armed crowd banging on the walls
posed a more immediate threat to his health: “I don’t need fresh air,
man.” – Reuters