Residents pack belongings into a vehicle in Surt, Libya, which was devastated… (Philippe Desmazes, AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Beirut — A group of mercenaries has offered to help Moammar Kadafi's fugitive son and onetime heir apparent evade arrest and trial, an international prosecutor said Friday.
The International Criminal Court warned that authorities might intercept any aircraft linked to the suspected plot to shield Seif Islam Kadafi from facing war crimes charges pending against him.
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo also said his office had had "informal contact" with the younger Kadafi, once regarded as the reformist face of his father's regime in Libya.
Mercenaries have offered to help him escape to an African nation that does not recognize the court's jurisdiction, Moreno-Ocampo said. The prosecutor did not identify the nation.
Prosecutors are "exploring the possibility" of intercepting any aircraft carrying Kadafi's son in order to make an arrest, Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement issued in The Hague, where the court is based. He did not say how the ICC could intercept a plane, other than to note that it would have to be done in the airspace of a nation that accepted the court's jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said Friday that, as expected, it would end its controversial Libya operations as of Monday. That will mark the end of a seven-month air and sea campaign that played a central role in the ouster of Moammar Kadafi after more than four decades in power.
"We have fully complied with the historic mandate of the United Nations to protect the people of Libya," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.
The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for Seif Islam Kadafi on charges of crimes against humanity in connection with the crackdown on protesters this year by his father's security forces. The London-educated son, who once mingled with European high society, publicly threatened dissidents.
Moammar Kadafi's second-eldest son has remained at large despite a manhunt. The senior Kadafi and a younger son, Mutassim, were killed last week during the climactic battle for the coastal city of Surt, their clan's ancestral home.
Reports indicated that Seif Islam Kadafi escaped this month from Bani Walid, another stronghold of his father's regime, before opposition forces overran the town. He has since been variously reported to be in southern Libya's Saharan expanses and in the neighboring nation of Niger, by some accounts under the protection of Tuareg tribesmen, beneficiaries of his father's largesse.
There has been speculation that the Kadafis may have spirited vast amounts of cash, gold and other valuables out of Libya, but no proof has emerged.
Abdullah Sanoussi, longtime chief enforcer for the regime and brother-in-law to the slain former leader, also has been reported to be in Niger and elsewhere in central Africa, where the elder Kadafi had many allies.
The ICC prosecutor said Friday that Seif Islam Kadafi "is innocent until proven guilty." Once the international court case is completed — with either an acquittal or a guilty verdict and a sentence served — the younger Kadafi could request that the judges send him to a nation other than Libya "as long as that country accepts him," the prosecutor said. There have been allegations that Moammar Kadafi was summarily executed after his capture by Libyan revolutionary forces.
Another surviving Kadafi son, Saadi Kadafi, has said the violent deaths of his father and brother demonstrate that no Kadafi can receive a fair trial in post-revolutionary Libya. The country's transitional leaders have said the family should be brought back to face charges of corruption and other crimes. Two other Kadafi sons, his widow and daughter fled to Algeria.
NATO's decision to end its campaign comes a day after the U.N. Security Council voted to cut off the U.N. mandate that was the legal basis for foreign intervention in Libya. The country's interim government asked for an extension of air patrols, citing potential attacks by die-hard Kadafi loyalists, but the U.N. decision ruled that out.
The NATO mission featured a withering aerial bombing campaign that negated Kadafi's advantages in armor and personnel and eroded his government's ability to respond to an ill-trained and disorganized rebel threat.
Since March 31, when NATO assumed control of the operation, alliance warplanes have flown more than 26,000 sorties over the North African nation, bombing thousands of targets.
Besides the bombing strikes, NATO enforced an embargo on arms shipments to Kadafi forces and secured a "no-fly" zone in Libyan airspace.
Leaders of the 28-nation alliance, which includes the United States, have labeled the Libya mission a resounding success. But critics have said that NATO exceeded its mandate to protect Libyan civilians and became the rebel air force in a war that eventually left more than 30,000 dead, including many noncombatants.