Officials with the International Criminal Court are in contact, through intermediaries, with the fugitive son of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi about a possible surrender, the court's prosecutor said today.
ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said on CNN the organization had conducted "informal conversations... exploring the possibility" that Saif al-Islam Gadhafi could willingly appear before the court, according to a report by The Associated Press.
Moreno-Ocampo said those discussions had been conducted with "intermediaries" for the 39-year-old, but said he was unaware of Saif's actual location. Officials at Libya's rebel National Transitional Council government previously told reporters Saif wanted to turn himself in, but just hours later other officials said he had made his way to Niger, a friendly nation that previously accepted one of Saif's brothers.
A source close to the Gadhafi sons told ABC News that not only does no one know for sure where Saif is, but it is unclear if he would actually consider turning himself in rather than attempting to escape Libya. Saif has repeatedly sworn to stay and fight in Libya. Just a month after the popular uprising began and NATO agreed to launch missions against the regime, he told ABC News in an exclusive interview, "We are in our country with our people… and we are not afraid."
Saif, who has managed to elude rebel forces for months even after his notorious father and brother were caught and killed last week, is wanted by the courts for his alleged role in the violent repression of protesters at the start of Libya's popular uprising. The ICC inferred by his proximity to Moammar and position as "de facto" prime minister of Libya that Saif "conceived and orchestrated a plan to deter and quell, by all means [including lethal action], the civilian demonstrations against Gadhafi's regime" amounting to crimes against humanity, according to a warrant for Saif's arrest issued in June.
In the first days of the uprising, Saif warned protesters on national television that if the people did not accept offers of reform, there would be "rivers of blood" and even after the tide of war turned against his family, Saif continued to threaten violent revenge.
Saif al-Islam, Once Great Hope of Libya
But before the alleged murders and ominous warnings, Saif was seen by the Libyan youth in a completely different light: as the great "hope" for the north African nation.
"Young Libyans have repeated over the last few weeks that Saif al-Islam is the 'hope' of 'Libya al-Ghad' (Libya of tomorrow)," a U.S. official said in February 2010 in a classified State Department cable posted on the website WikiLeaks, "with men in their twenties saying that they aspire to be like Saif and think he is the right person to run the country."
In the years previous, Saif publicly spoke out against many of his father's own policies to urge Libya towards a more democratic future. In a 2008 address to the Libyan Youth Forum, he pushed for extreme reform, including establishing a new structure of government, a constitution and new legal system that provided greater protection for human rights and press freedoms.
As far back as 2002, Saif said democracy was "policy number one for us," according to a report by The Guardian.
"First thing democracy, second thing democracy, third thing democracy," he said.
"Saif seems to be making progress in casting himself as a humanitarian, philanthropist, and reformer," the 2010 U.S. cable says. "If Saif al-Islam does intend to accept an official role in the near future, domestic audiences -- particularly among Libya's swelling ranks of young adults -- may welcome him as Libya's knight in shining armor."
The ICC prosecutor's office did not immediately return requests for comment on this report.