Gaddafi children closed ranks around father

Muammar Gaddafi's children earned reputations for extravagance, violence and dysfunctional behavior that attracted almost as many hostile headlines as their eccentric and ruthless father.

One son, Saif al Arab, was killed during the six-month armed revolt to overthrow the Libyan leader. Unconfirmed reports say another, Khamis, has also been killed.

In the first official word on the fate of surviving family members, Algeria said it had given refuge to Gaddafi's wife on Monday with three children -- Hannibal, Mohammed and daughter Aisha. Two other sons, Saif al-Islam and Saadi, have vanished.

For years, jealousy and greed had poisoned relations within the family, but as rebels challenged the Libyan ruling system, Gaddafi's seven sons and one daughter closed ranks around their father, breaking off lives that in many cases had been lived abroad, sometimes in the harsh glare of publicity.

A leaked U.S. diplomatic report from 2009 noted that "internecine strife is nothing new for the famously fractious family." Several Libyan officials lost their jobs or were forced into exile after falling foul of family members.

Most prominent once the revolt began was Saif al-Islam, whose bellicose loyalist rhetoric forced Libya analysts rapidly to rethink previous views that the 39-year-old was a reformer.

Once seen as the acceptable face of the Libyan regime, Saif al-Islam, like his father, is now wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity.

The ICC reported that Saif al-Islam had been arrested as Tripoli fell, but shortly afterwards he appeared in front of the international media in the capital to disprove those reports.

The English-speaking Saif al-Islam, who studied at the London School of Economics, was once seen as a possible successor to his father as Libyan leader.

His brother Saif al-Arab, 29, was killed in a NATO bombing raid on Tripoli. As a four-year-old, he was wounded in an air strike on his father's compound in the capital ordered by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.

If those two violent events bracketed his short life, what happened in between was less exceptional -- the peccadilloes of a spoilt son of an indulgent father.

A student who had been living in Germany, Saif al-Arab's name appeared in the media after he was reported to have been involved in a scuffle at the 4004 nightclub in Munich.

According to a Der Spiegel article in 2007, Saif al-Arab fought with a bouncer who tried to throw out his female companion after she began to undress on the dance floor.

In U.S. diplomatic cables detailing Gaddafi family rivalries, Saif al-Arab is said to have spent "much time partying."

Another brother, Khamis, was reported killed on Monday, but two earlier reports of his death have proved premature.

If he is alive, the ICC prosecutor said he may put Khamis on the wanted list after a military brigade he commanded was accused of killing dozens of detainees in Tripoli.

Khamis was also wounded in the 1986 bombing of Tripoli, but that did not stop him from taking up a career as commander of the 32nd Brigade, one of Libya's best equipped units, which played a leading role in Gaddafi's effort to crush the revolt.

Gaddafi always said his adopted daughter Hana, then six months old, had died in the 1986 raid. But after the fall of Tripoli, the Irish Times said it found documents that showed she was alive and had studied medicine and English.

Hannibal, whose official position was head of the state shipping company, was involved in a series of incidents abroad.

In 2008 he and his wife were arrested in a Geneva hotel for the mistreatment of two maids. The incident snowballed into a major diplomatic row with Switzerland during which two Swiss businessmen were detained for long periods in Libya.

British media reported that police were called to his luxury hotel after his wife was injured but no charges were brought.

His brother Saadi is chiefly known abroad for his obsession with soccer. He had a brief and undistinguished career with several Italian clubs and also captained the Libyan national team, whose coach was once fired for not selecting him.

Saadi also did his best as a playboy, according to a Bulgarian former nightclub dancer who said she had a six-year fling with him, Britain's Mail on Sunday newspaper said.

The sophisticated image he sought to project with private jets, 5-star hotels, jewels and suitcases full of cash was undermined by his penchant for visits to amusement parks.

Little has been heard of Gaddafi's eldest son Mohammed, an engineer who was put in charge of Libya's Olympic Committee and the General Posts and Telecommunications Committee.

That post meant he was effectively in charge of Libya's telephone network, which was used to eavesdrop on anti-Gaddafi activists and put them in jail.

Similarly, Muatassim, who served as Gaddafi's security adviser and handled his father's media image on trips abroad -- occasions when some of the leader's more bizarre behavior came to light -- was little heard of once the fighting started.

"Muatassim ... plays a key role as his father's confidant and handler during travel abroad," said a confidential cable from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli.

"Muatassim also seems to have been tasked with ensuring that the Leaders image is well-preserved through the full array of carefully-planned media events."

Gaddafi's daughter, Aisha, studied in France and spoke out in defense of her father after the fighting started.

Her glamorous image led some to describe her as the Claudia Schiffer of North Africa. A lawyer, she later joined a team that unsuccessfully defended Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. Her role as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations did not survive the onset of the popular uprising in Libya in February.

[Source: By Giles Elgood, Reuters, Tunis, 30Aug11]

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