Algiers, Asharq Al-Awsat – The presence of Colonel Gaddafi’s wife and three of his children in Algeria has stirred controversy, with Libyan officials calling for the Gaddafi family members to be returned back to Libya to face justice. There is conflicting information regarding the whereabouts of the Gaddafi family members in Algeria, with some sources claiming that they are being held in an Algerian military base close to the Libyan borders, while other sources claim that they are being accommodated in an Algerian presidential palace in Western Algiers.
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s wife, Safiya, three of his children; Muhammad, Hannibal, and Aisha; as well as their spouses and children, sought refuge in Algeria on 29 August 2011, following the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya.
The Algerian street is today debating this issue – Gaddafi family members seeking refuge in the country – with Algerian news and media reports speculating on their possible whereabouts and fate, as well as the possibility of the Algerian government transferring them to another country that has agreed to grant them permanent asylum.
An official Algerian source who is aware of the circumstances surrounding the manner in which the Gaddafi family entered and was received by Algeria has told Asharq Al-Awsat that “they surprised us by approaching the border…they asked for permission to enter [Algeria], which led to an urgent meeting of the most senior officials in the country, and approval was granted for them to enter the country.”
The Algerian official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, also stressed that “we were aware that this decision would bring [international] pressure to bear upon us, but there is a very important part to this story [not being reported], which is that a section of the Libyan National Transitional Council [NTC] endorsed this step and stressed that if this had included Colonel Gaddafi or his son Saif al-Islam they would have opposed this.”
As for the current whereabouts of the Gaddafi family members in Algeria, the source said that “they are in the border region, and they will remain there for a while.” The Algerian official also stressed that Algeria will not hand over the Gaddafi family members, as some senior NTC members have called for, adding that “since the beginning we have said that our hosting of them is based on humanitarian grounds.”
Unconfirmed reports have claimed that Algiers is prepared to transfer the Gaddafi family members to any third country willing to grant them asylum. Commenting on these reports, the Algerian official told Asharq Al-Awsat that “until now we have not received any request of this kind” adding that “they are now our guests and will remain so for however long it takes.”
Sources in southern Algeria have claimed that the Gaddafi family members have been hosted at a military base close to the Algerian – Libyan border since their entry into the country. The same source claimed that Aisha Gaddafi was transferred to a government hospital where she recently gave birth before later re-joining the rest of the Gaddafi family members at the same southern military base after 4 days.
However reports yesterday in the Algerian capital claimed that a military aircraft carrying the Gaddafi family had landed at the Boufarik military airbase (40 km south of Algiers) and that a convoy of cars carrying Algeria’s “guests” was seen travelling to a residential compound used by heads of state and foreign diplomats located in western Algiers.
If this report is confirmed, and the Gaddafi family members have truly been transferred to the Algerian capital, then it is likely that they will be put up in the Zeralda district. This is the least populous district of Algiers, being mostly made up of woodland, and is the home of a dozen or so palatial villas where heads of state and other senior state guests are usually accommodated.
However other sources have claimed that the Gaddafi family will most likely be put up at the so-called Club Des Pins (Pine Club), which is the major tourist district of Algiers. A regional conference examining the threat of terrorism in the Sahel and the repercussions of the Libyan crisis region is scheduled to be held there tomorrow.
In addition to this, it is also possible that the Gaddafi family members are being accommodated in one of Algeria’s presidential palaces – mostly located in western Algiers – particularly as these have witnessed an unusually heightened level of security since last week.