ZINTAN, Libya (AP) — Moammar Gadhafi's former heir apparent Seif al-Islam was captured by revolutionary fighters in the southern desert Saturday just over a month after his father was killed, setting off joyous celebrations and closing the door on the possibility that the fugitive son could stoke further insurrection.
Seif al-Islam, once seen as a voice of reform in an eccentric and reviled regime, now faces the prospect of trial before an international or Libyan court to answer for the alleged crimes of his late father's four-decade rule.
Thunderous celebratory gunfire shook the Libyan capital of Tripoli and other cities after Libyan officials said Seif al-Islam, who has been charged by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, had been detained deep in the southern desert, about 30 miles west of the town of Obari in an area that borders Niger, Mali and Algeria.
"I am hopeful that the capture of Gadhafi's son is the beginning of a chapter of transparency and democracy and freedom," Libya's interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib at a news conference in the mountain town of Zintan, where Seif al-Islam was taken after his capture.
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told The Associated Press that he will travel to Libya next week for talks with the country's transitional government on where the trial will take place. Ocampo said that while national governments have the first right to try their own citizens for war crimes, his primary goal was to ensure Seif al-Islam has a fair trial.
"The good news is that Seif al-Islam is arrested, he is alive, and now he will face justice," Ocampo said in an interview in The Hague. "Where and how, we will discuss it."
Seif al-Islam's capture leaves only former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi wanted by the ICC, which indicted the two men along with Gadhafi in June for unleashing a campaign of murder and torture to suppress the uprising against the Gadhafi regime that broke out in mid-February. Protests inspired by the so-called Arab Spring sweeping the region soon escalated into a civil war, with NATO launching airstrikes under a U.N.-mandate to protect civilians.
Photos and video clips showed Seif al-Islam wearing brown robes and a turban in the style of ethnic Tuaregs, a nomadic community that spans the desert border area of Niger, Mali, Libya, Algeria and Chad and long fought for his father's regime. In some, he was bundled onto an airplane that apparently carried him to Zintan, 85 miles (150 kilometers) southwest of Tripoli.
Libya's transitional government has struggled to consolidate control over the country and form a new government after months of violence and the refusal of several armed factions to lay down their weapons or join the national forces. International rights groups also have documented widespread prisoner abuse mainly aimed at former Gadhafi supporters, casting doubt on reconciliation efforts as the country tries to forge a democracy.
The emergence of Seif al-Islam as the only Gadhafi in custody to face justice posed a major test of the interim government's commitment to human rights and the rule of law. The murky circumstances surrounding the deaths of the reviled Libya leader and another son Muatassim on Oct. 20, and the decision to lay their bodies out for public viewing drew widespread criticism. The international community called on Libyan authorities to ensure Seif al-Islam was treated humanely.
French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who played an active role in his country's early stance on the side of the rebels who rose up against Gadhafi, alleged that Seif al-Islam was at least as much to blame for past atrocities against Libyans as his father.
"His arrest is a real important moment. It's the real end of this war," Levy said during an interview in Paris, adding his voice to calls for Seif al-Islam to be judged by an international court.
"If this trial happens in a proper way, it will be the founding stone of the new democratic process in Libya," he said. "He must be condemned for the crimes he committed."
Libyan state TV posted a photograph purportedly of Seif al-Islam in custody. He is sitting by a bed and holding up three bandaged fingers as a guard looks on, although it could not independently be confirmed where or when the picture was taken or how he was injured.
Osama Juwaid, a spokesman for the fighters from Zintan who made the arrest, said it was an old injury caused by a NATO airstrike and the detainee was otherwise in good health. "We reassure everybody that that we will treat him well as a prisoner," he said.