All Points Bulletin: Qaddafis on the Loose

An FP guide to the latest mysterious sightings of Libya's first family as they run for cover.


 Editor's note: This article was updated on Aug. 29 to include the latest news from Libya.

 Editor’s note: This article was updated on Aug. 29 to include the latest news from Libya.

Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi
Erstwhile Western darling, LSE grad, born-again Muslim, de facto prime minister
Last spotted:
Tripoli’s Rixos hotel, touring the city in his white armored vehicle

Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, the second-born Qaddafi son, was once the West’s favorite, but even before that, he was his father’s chosen son, rumored to be next in line for Libyan leadership. Of course, the bloodthirsty rants and International Criminal Court indictment came later.

A lot of the adjectives once used for Saif — cosmopolitan, charismatic, Western-friendly, moderate — are due to the reputation he developed at the London School of Economics, from which he received a (now-disputed, thanks to charges of thesis plagiarism) Ph.D. in 2008.

Saif also built up his Davos Man credibility through his philanthropic endeavors: His Qaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation sent hundreds of tons of aid to Haiti after its devastating January 2010 earthquake. Saif has also spoken boldly about constitutional reform, climate change, and economic liberalization. He was lauded for convincing his father to publicly renounce weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

But at the start of the Libyan uprising, Saif was quick to join his father’s side, much to the disappointment and astonishment of the West. His statements, often given on behalf of his father, grew erratic and fiery, threatening, for example, that “rivers of blood will run through Libya.”

During the six-month battle for Libya, Saif’s behavior became increasingly bizarre. This month, he gave a rare interview to the New York Times‘ David Kirkpatrick. Despite rebel gains, Qaddafi insisted that the rebels were “rats,” and their governing council “a fake,” “a joke,” and “a puppet.” Saif, though never that religious in his previous incarnation, had grown a beard and spent the interview fingering Islamic prayer beads; nevermind that he had earlier denounced the rebellion as an Islamist conspiracy. He said his father’s forces would align with radical Islamists against the rebels: “Libya will look like Saudi Arabia, like Iran. So what?”

He claimed to be unsurprised by the West’s newfound interest in his country’s future, partially thanks to its oil wealth. “Libya is very sexy. Libya is very nice,” he concluded during the interview. “It is a very delicious piece of cake.”

On Sunday, Aug. 21, early in the recent rebel siege of Tripoli, the National Transitional Council (NTC) trumped the capture of Saif, arguably the most powerful of Qaddafi’s sons and considered the “de facto prime minister,” according to the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the NTC, declared on Monday that Saif was “being kept in a secure place under close guard … We gave instructions that he is well treated, in order to be judged.” In a separate statement, Moreno-Ocampo confirmed that Saif was captured, telling Reuters, “Saif was captured in Libya. We have confidential information from different sources that we have within Libya confirming this.” The ICC issued arrested warrants for Qaddafi, Saif, and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi in June on charges of crimes against humanity.  

But early Tuesday morning, reports from several journalists noted that Saif was free and on the loose, and had been spotted at Qaddafi’s residential complex in Tripoli. Later, video footage showed him exultantly greeting his supporters in central Tripoli. Saif also appeared at the Rixos hotel in Tripoli, where international journalists were woken up and told to go downstairs. There, in the parking lot sat Saif, smiling inside a white armored vehicle and, according to the BBC, “pumped full of adrenalin, brimming with confidence.”

CNN’s Matthew Chance snapped a photo of Saif and tweeted it, alerting the world that Saif told him “that he had been traveling around Tripoli in an armored convoy the whole time.”

Saif then gave a few brief statements to reporters, decrying Western forces and the rebels:

You have seen how the Libyan people rose up, men and women, to break the spine of the rebel rats. Now we will take a tour in the ‘hot spots’ of the city of Tripoli so you can see that the situation is good. We want to reassure the world that the situation in Libya is excellent, thank God.

When asked whether he was afraid of the International Criminal Court, Saif replied, “Screw the criminal court.”

Confusion still surrounds Saif’s supposed imprisonment. While he claimed to have never been captured, one rebel fighter speculated to Al Jazeera that Qaddafi was captured and had bribed his way out. On Tuesday, Waheed Burshan, president of the NTC, said that Saif had been arrested, but had escaped, due in part to “inexperienced youth” captors and the lack of a “structured military guard.”

As of Aug. 29, his whereabouts are unknown, though he is still believed to be in Libya. 


Muhammad al-Qaddafi
Head of Libyan Olympic committee, Al Jazeera guest star, escape artist

Last heard:
On the phone with Russian chess federation chief Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Tuesday afternoon. Believed to have escaped to Algeria.

The eldest of Qaddafi’s sons, Muhammad has been largely sidelined by the Qaddafi regime, involved only tangentially, for example, in running the Libyan Olympic committee and the state-owned telecom company. Muhammad was among the three of Qaddafi’s sons reported captured by the rebels on Sunday evening. Loyalist fighters stormed the Tripoli house where he was being held and set him free after clashing with his guards.

Perhaps the oddest thing about Muhammad was his phone call to Al Jazeera on Sunday, as rebels began to lay siege to Tripoli. As Max Fisher at the Atlantic writes, “The network, which has effusively covered (and, at times, cheerleaded) the downfall of his family’s four-decade rule, was an unlikely point of contact for the wealthy Libyan prince. But Muhammed had something to tell the world.”

He started to apologize:

What’s happening in Libya is very upsetting. The killing between brothers, between Muslims, is something that deeply saddens me. I’ve always wished that things would never reach this level and that we would solve our differences through love and mercy…. We should have been merciful between us. There should not have been any violence. Too much Libyan blood has been spilled. This is something that has really affected me. What can I say; it’s God’s will.

Thankfully the Libyan people know who I am. I’ve always worked with honesty and integrity for humanity and for my nation. I’ve never been aggressive to anyone and have always wanted the best for all Libyans in the past and also for the future. I’ve never been a government or a security official. However I can tell you the absence of wisdom and foresight is what brought us here today. Our differences could have been solved very easily.

During the call, gunfire erupted from his end of the call. He told Al Jazeera, “I’m being attacked right now. This is gunfire inside my house. They’re inside my house.” The line then went dead. Soon after, Muhammad called back to say that he and his family were safe, though he was later captured and taken prisoner by rebels.

Despite this bizarre call and apparent sense of remorse, Muhammad is apparently now with his father. On Tuesday, he called Russian chess federation chief (and apparent confidant) Kirsan Ilyumzhinov on behalf of his father. “He gave the phone to his father, who said that he is in Tripoli, he is alive and healthy and is prepared to fight to the end,” Ilyumzhinov told Reuters.

On Aug. 29, the Algerian government confirmed that Mohammed, along with his mother, Safiya, sister, Aisha, and brother, Hannibal had crossed over the border into Algeria in a Mercedes on Monday morning. The four crossed along with a large party including “many children.”


Aisha al-Qaddafi
The “Claudia Schiffer of North Africa,” Saddam-defender, bedtime storyteller

Last known location:
In Algeria

Like her brothers, Qaddafi’s only daughter, Aisha, has been a global player. A lawyer, she joined Saddam Hussein’s defense team in 2004. When asked by the Telegraph in an interview last October about Saddam’s role in killing 300,000 Iraqis and the delight some Iraqis felt in his death, she said, “It is only normal that some people are against you and some are with you. You are bound to meet people who may be against your policies.” And she would know.

According to one WikiLeaks cable, she was designated “the task of monitoring the activities of ne’er-do-wells” in the family, including her brothers Saadi and Hannibal. But when it came to Hannibal’s stint in Swiss detention, she may have exacerbated the problem, playing “a strong role in urging a hardline Libyan position with respect to the Swiss-Libyan contretemps … Aisha’s less than accurate rendering to her father of the events surrounding Hannibal’s arrest and treatment by Swiss authorities helped stoke Muammar al-Qadhafi’s anger.”

During Libya’s short thaw with the West, Aisha was appointed as a goodwill ambassador to the United Nations in July 2009, focusing on the issues of HIV/AIDS and violence against women in Libya. She was subsequently fired from that position following the start of the war.

In April, Aisha granted a rare interview to the New York Times, summing up the sense of fatalism gripping her besieged family. She said she liked to tell her children bedtime stories about the afterlife “to make them ready … Because in a time of war you never know when a rocket or a bomb might hit you, and that will be the end.” She said the war had pulled her family together “like one hand.”

In June, Aisha’s lawyers filed lawsuits in Paris and Brussels over the alleged assassination of four Qaddafi relatives by NATO bombing raids in Tripoli in April. Rumors hadplaced her fleeing with her mother to Belarus, while video footage from Aug. 22 depicted protesters storming her Tripoli house.

On Aug. 29, it was reported that she had crossed into Algeria with her mother and brothers. 


Mutassim al-Qaddafi
National security advisor, militia commander, rival to Saif
Last seen:
Fleeing toward the Algerian border. Or maybe he’s in Qaddafi’s compound.

Considered a hard-liner, Mutassim reportedly has had a long-standing rivalry with Saif, vying with him for power within Qaddafi’s regime. This relationship was played out in U.S. State Department cables leaked by WikiLeaks, in whichc Saif’s 2008 trip to Washington “exacerbated tension with his siblings.” Mutassim followed up with a trip to Washington of his own in 2009, meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the highest-level diplomatic exchange between the two countries in years.

According to a 2006 cable released by WikiLeaks, “All of the Qaddafi children and favorites are supposed to have income streams from the National Oil Company and oil service subsidiaries.” A more recent cable noted that a series of scandals had sent the family into a “tailspin” and “provided local observers with enough dirt for a Libyan soap opera.” A “local political observer” told U.S. diplomats that Mutassim’s “carousing and extravagance angered some locals, who viewed his activities as impious and embarrassing to the nation.”

During the war, Mutassim commanded forces in battles around the city of Brega. Reports have placed him both fleeing the country with his brother Hannibal, as well as leading loyalist fighters in the battle at Qaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, now captured by rebels.

Muatassim was reportedly not among the convoy that escaped to Algeria. He is believed to still be in the country. 


Saadi al-Qaddafi
Pro-footballer, Hollywood producer
Last known whereabouts:
At large.

Saadi al-Qaddafi, the third-oldest son, is a former soccer player who once had a brief career with Italy’s Perugia club and once ran the Libyan Football Federation. He also dabbled in Hollywood, serving as the main investor of a film production company. Last year, he was sued by an Italian hotel for failing to pay an expensive bill dating back to 2007. An Italian court has ordered him to cough up about $494,000.

On Feb. 17, the Libyan Youth Movement claimed Saadi ordered mercenary troops to shoot unarmed demonstrators in Benghazi, helping to spark the uprising.

In February, Saadi joined Saif to talk to ABC’s Christiane Amanpour about the state of his country. He warned of “civil war” if his father were to relinquish power. “That is my personal opinion, and the chaos will be everywhere,” he said. “They think it’s about freedom. I love freedom; you love freedom. But it’s powerful, this earthquake. No one can control it.”

In April, however, along with Saif, he proposed a resolution to the conflict that would have pushed Qaddafi aside and allowed for a transition to a constitutional democracy. According to a person close to Saif and Saadi, the two sons “want to move toward change for the country.”

Initially, reports indicated that Saadi was arrested on Sunday night alongside Saif. But given the surprise reappearance of Saif, the authenticity of Saadi’s capture was in doubt. As the Atlantic Wire points out, Saadi “was said to have been arrested as early as Sunday, only to be reportedly arrested once again on Monday.”

On Wednesday, Saadi apparently sent an e-mail to CNN’s Nic Robertson, saying that he wanted to avoid a “sea of blood” in Tripoli, indicating that he was, in fact, not arrested. Other reports have suggested the regime might put Saadi forward to represent the Qaddafis at peace talks, though it seems pretty unlikely that the rebels would be interested in talks at this point.


Hannibal al-Qaddafi
Bad boy, car enthusiast, wife beater

Last seen:
At large

The most famously bad of the Qaddafi boys is Hannibal, who was arrested in July 2008 in Geneva, accused of assault. He was later freed on bail, though the incident caused a bilateral standoff between Libya and Switzerland, with the Libyan government boycotting Swiss goods, shutting down Libyan subsidiaries of Swiss companies Nestlé and ABB, removing its diplomats from Switzerland, and canceling most commercial flights between the two countries. Muammar himself was so enraged by his son’s arrest that he withdrew about $5 billion from his personal Swiss bank account. Hannibal described Switzerland as a “world mafia” and his father proposed that the United Nations abolish Switzerland, dividing it along linguistic lines and giving those parts to Germany, France, and Italy.

Of course, this was not Hannibal’s only run-in with European police. In 2004, he was pulled over in Paris after a high-speed police chase during which, intoxicated, he drove his black Porsche sports car 90 miles per hour the wrong way down the Champs Élysées. His bodyguards subsequently attacked the police officers. He is also a notorious domestic abuser: Police were called to his Paris hotel in 2004 when he started beating his girlfriend, and last Christmas, he reportedly beat his wife in a London hotel.

Hannibal’s European adventures have left him with little time to pursue Libyan politics as deeply as his brothers, but he was in Libya during the war, leading the defense of Gharyan, south of Tripoli. He was among those in the convoy that crossed the Algerian border on Monday.


Saif al-Arab al-Qaddafi
Black sheep
Killed by NATO airstrikes in April

Saif al-Arab, the second-youngest Qaddafi son, was considered the black sheep of the Qaddafi clan and spent a lot of time in Europe, like his brother Hannibal. Also like Hannibal, he had a tendency to get into a bit of trouble — in 2006, he was detained for fighting with a Munich nightclub bouncer after his girlfriend began stripping on the dance floor. He later ordered an acid attack on the bouncer and was denied legal immunity though the Libyan Embassy accredited him as a diplomat. Saif al-Arab studied at a Munich’s Technical School, starting in 2006. In 2008, officials there once had to impound his Ferrari because he made too much noise when revving up its engine.

When the war broke out in Libya, his father ordered Saif al-Arab home and put him in charge of an eastern combat brigade, although the extent to which he actually fought or commanded remains unclear. He was killed, along with three of Qaddafi’s grandchildren, in a NATO missile strike on Tripoli on April 30.


Khamis al-Qaddafi
Brigade leader, business student

Last known mortality status:
Was reported dead, but then not, but maybe yes again.

Khamis was a tough guy, heading an especially feared military brigade that was especially active in suppressing protests during the early stages of the Libyan uprising. The unit, known as the Khamis Brigade, was rumored to have been in charge of suppressing the protests in Benghazi and was also spotted fighting in Zawiya, near Tripoli.

Before the war broke out, Khamis was a student at Madrid’s IE business school, where he was enrolled in an $81,320-per-year international MBA program. He was expelled from the school when the uprising began, due to “his links to the attacks against the Libyan population.” But in February, just before the uprising began, Khamis was given a VIP tour of the Air Force Academy in Colorado during a trip to the United States.

During the war, Khamis led his brigade, considered the most loyal and powerful unit in the Qaddafi army, numbering 10,000 men. At the beginning of August, rebels reported that NATO airstrikes had killed Khamis. Days later, however, Libyan state television broadcast images of Khamis; soon after, the Khamis Brigade evidently surrendered during the rebel siege of Tripoli. As of Aug. 23, there were unconfirmed reports that Khamis had been found dead, along with Qaddafi’s brother-in-law and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi.

Despite the rumors, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, suggested on Monday that Khamis may soon join Saif and Muammar on the court’s most-wanted list.

Hana al-Qaddafi

Long-lost adopted daughter, propaganda tool

Last spotted: Photos found indicating she survived the 1986 bombing raid that reportedly killed her

When Col. Qaddafi reported to the international media in 1986 that a U.S. bombing raid on his compound had killed his infant adopted daughter, it was about as close as the dictator ever came to eliciting international sympathy. Even the Reagan administration, while not exactly apologizing, acknowledged that there had been “errant bombs” in the strike. Since, Qaddafi has continued to exploit the tragedy for propaganda value, even sponsoring a concert in her memory in 2006 featuring U.S. singer Lionel Richie. 

But was it all a hoax? Many Libyans reportedly never believed the official version of events. They may now have been proven right. On Aug. 12, the Telegraph reported that dental records had been found in the Libyan embassy in Britain showing a visit by a “Hana Qaddafi” to a London dentist in 2008. Then on Aug. 26, the Irish Times reported that documents including photographs and university certificates had been discovered showing that Hana had in fact, grown up with her family in Tripoli. Documents found in a room believed to belong to her indicate that she studied medicine in Tripoli.

Her current whereabouts are unknown. 

Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi
Uncle Curly, Brother Leader of the
Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, King of Kings of Africa, World’s Most Wanted Man
Last whereabouts:
Unknown, possibly Tripoli

While the battle to liberate the remaining strongholds of Libya’s capital city and the loyalist outpost of Sirte continues — and while his sons have been captured, set free, killed, and unkilled — the scion himself has remained particularly elusive. He was last seen over two months ago. On Tuesday morning, Aug. 23, he reportedly spoke to Russian chess federation chief Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, telling him that he was alive, healthy, and in Tripoli — with no plans to leave the city, he was “prepared to fight to the end.” But where in Tripoli, no one quite knows.  

His son, Saif al-Islam, made a very public show of parading around the compound before dawn on Tuesday, but by the time rebels swarmed Bab al-Azizya, setting fire to his famous tent and trying on his trademark white-and-gold military parade hat, there was no sign of Muammar or his son. On early Wednesday morning, a local radio station broadcast a message from the colonel, claiming that the retreat was a “tactical”manuever due to NATO airstrikes on his compound.

Much speculation has surrounded the labyrinth of tunnels that lie beneath the family’s compound, rumored to be up to 20 miles long and linked to the sea. U.S. officials have said that Qaddafi is still in Libya. He has few other places to go — Algeria and Tunisia have both been floated as potential getaway locations, but the rebels control most of the borders. South Africa had been reportedly trying to facilitate Qaddafi’s exit — the South African Foreign Ministry spent most of Monday trying to dispel those rumors.

Qaddafi loyalists continue to fight in the coastal town of Sirte, Qaddafi’s birthplace, and the city of Sabha, located in the southern desert. Could Qaddafi have returned home to await his fate? Could he have fled to hang out with his buddy Hugo Chávez in Venezuela? Or is he holed up in some secret bunker deep beneath Tripoli? Whatever the case, with the rest of his family on the run and gathering no moss, it’s no surprise that daddy is a rolling stone.


Suzanne Merkelson is an editorial assistant at Foreign Policy.

More from Foreign Policy

Children are hooked up to IV drips on the stairs at a children's hospital in Beijing.
Children are hooked up to IV drips on the stairs at a children's hospital in Beijing.

Chinese Hospitals Are Housing Another Deadly Outbreak

Authorities are covering up the spread of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.

Henry Kissinger during an interview in Washington in August 1980.
Henry Kissinger during an interview in Washington in August 1980.

Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage

The late statesman was a master of realpolitik—whom some regarded as a war criminal.

A Ukrainian soldier in helmet and fatigues holds a cell phone and looks up at the night sky as an explosion lights up the horizon behind him.
A Ukrainian soldier in helmet and fatigues holds a cell phone and looks up at the night sky as an explosion lights up the horizon behind him.

The West’s False Choice in Ukraine

The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat.

Illustrated portraits of Reps. MIke Gallagher, right, and Raja Krishnamoorthi
Illustrated portraits of Reps. MIke Gallagher, right, and Raja Krishnamoorthi

The Masterminds

Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.