CAIRO (NYTIMES) - A son and the onetime heir apparent of Libya's deceased former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, was quietly released Friday (June 9) by the militia that had held him captive since the Arab Spring uprising of 2011, which ended his family's brutal rule.
In an online statement Saturday, the militia, the Abu Bakr Sadeek Brigade of the northwestern city of Zintan, said they allowed Seif al-Islam Gaddafi to leave the city Friday.
Gadhafi's release was a direct challenge to the extradition efforts by the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, which has said Gadhafi should stand trial on war crimes charges at The Hague.
He was convicted of such charges in 2015 by a Libyan court in the country's capital, Tripoli.
Friday's move highlights the turmoil that has gripped Libya since the Arab Spring uprising. The country is mainly divided between three factions: an internationally recognised but weak government in Tripoli; a rival Islamist body, also in Tripoli; and an anti-Islamist government in the east.
The chaos has turned the North African country into a criminal hub for human trafficking and weapons smuggling. Its beaches were a departure point for many of the estimated 180,000 migrants who illegally reached Italy last year.
The Abu Bakr Sadeek Brigade captured Seif al-Islam Gaddafi in November 2011, a month after his father, who ruled Libya for 42 years, was publicly killed.
On Saturday, the group announced that it released Gaddafi to comply with a new law issued by Libya's eastern government, which rights activists say seeks to rehabilitate and return Gaddafi-era figures to political life.
In its statement Saturday, the militia, which says it no longer recognises the authority of the Islamist government in Tripoli, urged other armed groups holding "political prisoners who fall under the jurisdiction of the law" to follow its lead.
According to the new law, Libya's eastern government can no longer pursue political figures such as Gaddafi, said Saleh Hashem, one of the lawmakers who helped write it, adding: "The state has given up the right to prosecute, but people can still sue them."
News of Gaddafi's release was received with a collective shrug in Libya, where people are still struggling to cope with the effects of the uprising and the civil war that followed.
Water and electricity are cut off in many parts of the country; fighting between armed groups continues to break out in some cities; and the currency has collapsed, sending prices of basic commodities higher than ever.
The silence was in stark contrast with the jubilation across Libya when the son of the former dictator was seized. At that time, thousands of Libyans poured out of their homes to shoot fireworks into the air in celebration.
Gaddafi's current location and his future plans remain unclear. The Abu Bakr Sadeek Brigade could not be reached for comment.
Several local news reports in Libya, however, said Gaddafi was headed to the city of Bayda, where the eastern government is based. The Bayda government is a close ally of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. They, along with Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations, seem to have been emboldened to act against their political enemies by President Donald Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia last month, during which he aligned himself closely with them.
Just days after the visit, those three countries, along with other Arab countries, abruptly cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, a small, oil-rich Arab nation they claim funds terrorism in the region.