Where’s Gadhafi? Wife, 3 children in Algeria | Inquirer News

Where’s Gadhafi? Wife, 3 children in Algeria

, / 02:02 AM August 31, 2011

Gao, Mali—Moammar Gadhafi’s circle of friends on the international scene is fast shrinking but in the Malian town of Gao, residents say they would be happy to welcome the fugitive Libyan leader.

“Let Gadhafi come here. We will offer him bed and board,” said a chemist in Gao, the impoverished Sahelian country’s main eastern hub.

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A school headmaster looked slightly more nervous when asked if he would open his home to Gadhafi but argued Mali had long benefited from the maverick leader’s largesse and could not leave him out in the cold.

“I agree to welcome Gadhafi. We are not ungrateful people. He opened his wallet to us Africans. Today he is experiencing difficult times, we should not forsake him,” he said.

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Gadhafi’s whereabouts remained unknown, but the Algerian government said that his wife and three children had fled Libya to Algeria, firm evidence that the longtime leader had lost his grip on his country.

Libyan rebels said that another Gadhafi son, elite military commander Khamis, was probably killed in battle on Saturday near the town of Tarhouna, 80 kilometers southeast of the Libyan capital of Tripoli, destroying two vehicles in the convoy. The bodies in the cars were burned beyond recognition, he said, but captured soldiers said they were Khamis Gadhafi’s bodyguards.

“We are sure he is dead,” said Col. Boujela Issawi, the rebel commander of Tarhouna. But then he cast some doubt, saying it was possible Gadhafi’s son was pulled alive from the car and taken to Bani Walid, a contested interior area.

The Algerian foreign ministry said in a statement that Gadhafi’s wife Safia, his sons Hannibal and Mohammed, and his daughter Aisha entered the country across the land border.

It said Algerian authorities had informed the United Nations secretary general, the president of the UN Security Council, and the head of the Libyan rebels transitional leadership council.

Extradition demand

Ahmed Jibril, an aide to rebel National Transitional Council head Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said officials would “demand that Algerian authorities hand them over to Libya to be tried before Libyan courts.”

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Gadhafi’s children played important roles in Libya’s military and economic life. Hannibal headed the maritime transport company; Mohammed the national Olympic committee. Aisha, a lawyer, helped in the defense of toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the trial that led to his hanging.

Ahmed Bani, military spokesperson of the council, said he was not surprised to hear Algeria welcomed Gadhafi’s relatives. Throughout the six-month Libyan uprising, rebels have accused Algeria of providing Gadhafi with mercenaries to repress the revolt.

Mali’s relations with Gadhafi’s regime were manifold.

The oil-rich regime welcomed thousands of Tuareg rebels from Mali and neighboring countries in the 1970s, many of whom are now returning with expensive cars and weapons.

But more recently, Gadhafi also showered African leaders with billions of dollars and got traditional leaders all over the continent to call him the “King of Kings.”

Remembering his generosity

While cases of mistreatment of sub-Saharan immigrants in Libya spurred some controversy in Mali and elsewhere, many simply remember the man who sprinkled dollar bills on the crowd when he toured the region to launch his drive for the “United States of Africa” a decade ago.

Mali is one of the countries that benefited the most from Gadhafi’s generosity. Libyan investments financed a gleaming government office complex which bears Gadhafi’s name and is on the brink of completion.

Libya also has significant stakes in the hotel and banking industries.

“I never received a penny from Gadhafi but I like him. There is a man who knows how to share. Just look at what he’s done for countries like Mali,” said Nouhoun Kone, a Gao airport employee.

“How many other Arab leaders offered any help to black Africa?” he said.

Two other residents sitting in front of their plot in this former Sahelian trading hub agree and say they would be happy to give Gadhafi hospitality.

“We are ready to protect him, offer him shelter and assistance. Nobody can root him out from this place. Tell him to come,” said one of them, who asked not to be named.

One of the richest men in Gao, who also wished to remain anonymous, concurred.

House in Timbuktu

“Why not build him a house in Gao or allow him to stay in his residence in Timbuktu,” he said, referring to the Malian town that was once a renowned center for Islamic learning and where Gadhafi owns land covering several hectares.

The Libyan leader once had himself declared the “Imam of Timbuktu” and flew in African leaders to pray with him in the city’s stadium.

Ibrahim Ag Kina, a former Tuareg rebel, said he had received more than $250,000 from Libyan envoys as part of an operation to disarm the rebellion in northern Mali.

He claimed that Libyan diplomats came to see him last year to “ask me to organize a disarmament operation with people from my tribe and tell me that Gadhafi was going to give money.”

“I got my money and the envoys took their cut. Gadhafi was a generous man,” he said, displaying a photograph of himself standing next to the Libyan leader.

Focus of concern

Mali has seen several demonstrations of support for Gadhafi’s regime in recent months. They were organized by several prominent writers and involved a number of political parties and associations.

The conflict in Libya has nonetheless polarized Malian opinion.

“What is happening to him is unfair but it has to be said he was violating people’s basic rights,” said Zoueratt, a young student in Gao.

“I am nonetheless in favor of granting him asylum. He was not a democrat but one should not forget that the Libyan rebels who now control most of the country are not either,” she said.

“Gadhafi is still capable of doing something awful in the last moments,” rebel leader Abdul-Jalil told Nato officials earlier on Monday in Qatar.

The focus of concern is Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte, his last major stronghold in the country. The town, 400 km east of Tripoli, is heavily militarized and shows no signs yet of surrendering even though rebels say they are trying to negotiate a bloodless takeover.

There was some fighting on Monday on the eastern and western approaches to Sirte. Some have speculated that Gadhafi and other senior regime figures may have fled there.

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TAGS: Algeria, Bani Walid, fugitive Libyan leader, Gadhafi’s children, Gao town, Mali, Moammar Gadhafi, Sirte, Timbuktu
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