Conflicting Rumors on Whereabouts of Saif al Islam Qadhafi

The whereabouts of Saif al Islam Qadhafi, the best-known of the Colonel’s sons internationally, are becoming a focal point of speculation. Reuters writes, “Analysts doubt Saif could lead a serious insurgency against Libya’s rulers, saying his influence is much reduced with his dominating and intimidating father now dead.” That said, Libya’s new leaders, the International Criminal Court, and other parties are keen to know the where Saif al Islam is.

One rumor puts him near or in Niger:

Rissa ag Boula, an adviser to Niger’s president and an elected member of the regional council of the northern Nigerien town of Agadez, spoke to The Associated Press by telephone. He said he was in touch with the ethnic Tuaregs who are helping guide Seif al-Islam Gadhafi across the ocean of dunes that mark the path from Libya to next-door Algeria and finally to Niger.

The ethnic Tuaregs were among Gadhafi’s strongest supporters that fought to keep him in power and one of his other sons as well as several of his generals relied on Tuareg guides to reach Niger in September.

“If he comes here, the government will accept him, but the government will also need to respect its international obligations. It’s up to him to decide (whether to stay on the run or come to Niger),” Boula said, referring to the fact that Seif al-Islam is wanted by the International Criminal Court.

Another (and less credible, in my view) rumor puts him in Darfur:

Muammar Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam is in Sudan’s western region of Darfur under the protection of a rebel leader in the area, the pro-government newspaper al- Intibaha reported, citing unidentified officials.

Khartoum-based al-Intibaha, owned by Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir’s uncle al-Tayeb Mustafa, said Saif and other former Libyan government officials crossed the border from Chad and are being sheltered by Justice and Equality Movement leader Ibrahim Khalil in rebel-held areas.

Regardless of the truth or falsity of these rumors, the fact that they’re circulating emphasizes a major aspect of the fallout from Qaddhafi’s death: 1) former Qadhafi partners like the Nigerien Tuaregs and the Darfuri rebels have important political roles to play in this time of regional uncertainty, either as constituencies governments wish to placate or as perceived enemies governments will try to fight. Put differently, Sahelian governments are making tough choices about how to respond to these groups, whether it be the Nigerien government’s approach of welcoming former Qadhafi allies and family members or the Sudanese government’s approach of casting suspicion upon internal rebels.

Saif al Islam may not have the following to pose a real threat to the new Libyan regime, but for now he remains a symbol of the continued tensions surrounding the political reorganizations taking place in the Sahel.

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