Muammar Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam has been travelling around close to Tripoli, meeting tribal leaders and preparing to retake the Libyan capital, his spokesman said on Friday.
In a telephone call to Reuters in Tunisia from what he said was a “southern suburb of Tripoli,” Moussa Ibrahim derided the ability of the National Transitional Council to run the country after its rebel fighters forced Gaddafi into hiding and said their Western backers should negotiate with the ousted leader.
And he mocked “the irony” that NATO was now allied to an Islamist fighter who once had contact with al-Qaeda and to whom the new government has given military command of the capital.
Sounding relaxed and speaking English in tones familiar from his many televised news conferences at Tripoli’s Rixos hotel during the past months of civil war, Ibrahim declined to be specific about where he was calling from -- though it was indeed a Libyan number which appeared on the caller-ID screen.
“I move around a lot and I don't have an Internet connection at the moment,” he said, after giving his current location as “a southern suburb of Tripoli.”
“Actually,” he went on, “Only yesterday, I was with Mr Seif al-Islam. I joined him on a tour circling Tripoli from the south.” London-educated Seif, long seen as Qaddafi’s heir apparent, had met tribal leaders and other supporters, he said.
“We are still very strong,” he added, giving no information on the location or condition of Muammar Qaddafi.
There was no way to verify his comments which, like those broadcast this week by Qaddafi himself and by Seif, serve as a public reminder to Libyans that the man who ruled with his family for 42 years remains at large and may pose a threat, at least by means of a guerrilla war, to the new authorities.
NTC officials say they believe Seif al-Islam and his father, both facing international war crimes charges, have regrouped around the desert town of Bani Walid, which lies 150 km (100 miles) southeast of Tripoli. The area, like Qaddafi’s home town of Sirte on the coast, is not in NTC control.
Echoing comments made by Qaddafi and his son in recent broadcasts from hiding, Ibrahim said: “The Transitional Council and the armed gangs do not control the country. Our army still controls many regions of Libya ... We will be able to capture Tripoli back and many other cities in the near future.”
“The fight is very, very far from over ... We can lead it from street to street, from house to house.”
Repeating allegations that Abdel Hakim Belhadj, the NTC military commander for Tripoli, is an al-Qaeda supporter, Ibrahim said: “For God’s sake, Tripoli is governed by ... a very famous international al Qaeda leader.”
“He’s a star of terrorism,” he added, in comments which may resonate with some in the West who have voiced concern about the role of Islamist movements in the Arab Spring revolts in Libya and elsewhere against secular autocrats.
“The citizens of the West need to understand that their politicians are ... aligning with the most evil forces.”
“Al-Qaeda is fighting with NATO against us.”
Security experts dispute that view. They say Belhadj, in common with many Arab dissidents who sought refuge in Taliban-run Afghanistan in the 1990s, had dealings with Osama bin Laden while there, but that he opposed al-Qaeda’s transnational, anti-Western campaign of violence.
Ibrahim said fighting would continue if the NTC and its Western allies did not accept a window of opportunity to negotiate now with the Qaddafis: “They need to negotiate with us ... otherwise they will never have a country to govern.”
A failure to talk soon could lead to “total war, not just in Libya,” Ibrahim said. “God knows what consequences that will have for Europe and the northern coast of the Mediterranean.”
Such fighting talk has been a staple of Qaddafi and it remains unclear what forces he can draw on, though analysts believe the threat of an Iraq-style insurgency is real. Less realistic, analysts say, is the ability of the 69-year-old leader or his sons to take back the power he seized in 1969.
Nonetheless, Ibrahim insisted: “Within even a few weeks, a few months, even a couple of years, we will have Libya back.