Saif al-Islam Gaddafi – long regarded as the former dictator’s heir apparent – flitted between fear and bravado at the prospect of meeting the same fate as his father when his Libyan captors flew him to their mountain stronghold.
Colonel Gaddafi, his father, was captured last month by revolutionary fighters, and was beaten abused and killed.
Saif al-Islam, who for years was seen as the leading pro-Western reformer within the Gaddafi camp, was terrified he would be lynched by the crowd trying to break into the Libyan air force transport plane that took him from the desert where he was captured to the town of Zintan, south of Tripoli, on Saturday.
The 39-year-old alleged war criminal, who was educated in London and lived a playboy lifestyle, spent most of the flight staring out of the window with his back to the other passengers, including his captors and the men he was captured with.
However, dressed in flowing Tuareg robes and traditional desert turban, he spoke freely when a crowd surrounded the plane after landing.
“I’m staying here. They’ll empty their guns into me the second I go out there,” Gaddafi’s son said as hundreds of men thronged round the aircraft, fired in the air in celebration and climbed on the fuselage, even trying to prise the prise a door open.
It was in stark contrast to Saif al –Islam’s aggressive posture during Libya’s civil war, when he called the fighters who eventually toppled his father “rats” and promised to crush their rebellion.
“I knew it. I knew that there would be a big crowd,” he said, peeking out through curtains at the jubilant Zintanis before recoiling in apparent terror. At another moment, his guards tried to assure him word of his capture had not leaked.
“If I knew this was what would happen, I should have rammed my head through the window,” the 39-year-old added in the darkness of the bare metal fuselage, where the portholes were covered for his protection. He appeared to be referring back to the moment when he was caught in the early hours, in a car.
Between such bouts of fear, while the crowd outside chanted “God is greatest”, the younger Gaddafi seemed to regain his mettle.
Shortly after saying he expected to be shot on sight, he said he was not afraid of being killed.
“I have no problem with that,” he said.
His plane waited on the runway for three hours before he was taken to a safe house in Zintan, exposed briefly to a crowd of people trying to slap him as he left the aircraft.
However, before alighting, he also found time to worry about the risks from his guards lighting up.
He told a group of men as they smoked: “The plane’s sealed and we’ll suffocated. We’re going to choke to death.” But when it was suggested they open the door for ventilation, he changed his mind.
“I don’t need fresh air, man,” he said, as the crowd hammered on the fuselage and clambered on the wings.
Saif al-Islam, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
However, Libyan officials insisted he would be tried in Libya.