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Qaddafi's Son Reported Heading Through Sahara for Niger

Saif al-Islam, heir-apparent to former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, is still free and at large. He is reportedly heading for Niger.
By Chana Yaár
First Publish: 10/26/2011, 2:25 PM

Muammar Qaddafi's son and heir-apparent, Saif al-Islam, has escaped Libya and is reported to be heading for Niger, its southern neighbor.

According to Rissa ag Boula, a Nigerian presidential adviser quoted by the Associated Press, the younger Qaddafi is being guided by ethnic Tuaregs through the undulating dunes of the barren desert that lies between Libya, neighboring Algeria and into Niger.

The Tuareg, or Tamajaq have been among the former Libyan dictator's strongest supporters. They are an Islamic, nomadic Berber people who inhabit the Saharan interior of North and West Africa, and are known as the "People of the Veil." Niger, for the matter, benefitted greatly in the past from Qaddafi's largesse as well, with much of its capital having been built with Libyan funds.

British Special Forces, meanwhile, are racing against the Tuareg in a desert manhunt for Qaddafi's London-educated fugitive son.

Saif al-Islam, Qaddafi's eldest son from his second wife, is believed to be the last of the family left alive and at large in Libya. He is still wanted by the International Criminal Court at The Hague for crimes against humanity, as was his father.  

Should the younger Qaddafi reach Niger, however, its government will have to contend with the conflict between sheltering a fugitive from the ICC, and giving up the son of the man who helped the country get on its feet economically. Many of those who live in Niger's capital city are ethnically Tuareg, or at least related.

His father and brother Mutassim, age 34, were killed in Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte last Thursday, the dictator having repeatedly refused to leave the country. The two were buried in an unmarked desert grave at dawn after Muslim prayers were chanted by a somewhat reluctant Islamic cleric, forced to conduct the ceremony by the ruling Libyan military council.

On Tuesday, elite troops from both Britain and Qatar searched intensively for the remaining Qaddafi on Libya's southern border.

Vowing revenge, the dictator's favorite son and heir-apparent had promised in a broadcast Sunday on Syrian television to carry where his father had left off:

"We continue our resistance. I'm in Libya, alive, free and intend to go to the very end -- and exact revenge," Saif al-Islam declared.