Since Saadi al-Gadhafi arrived in September, he has led a normal life, eating at restaurants, dancing at nightclubs and living under "house arrest" in a mansion.
NIAMEY, Niger — A couple of months ago, Saadi al-Gadhafi and his entourage partied at a swank restaurant in this steamy West African capital. When the DJ played an ethnic Tuareg song glorifying his late father, Moammar, Saadi and his companions jumped out of their chairs and clapped their hands to the rhythm.
“Then they all started dancing,” recalled Jean-Yves Rico, the restaurant’s owner.
In one of the unfinished businesses of the Arab Spring, Libya is seeking the extradition of Gadhafi, who fled here in September after rebels seized Tripoli, to face trial for alleged war crimes.
The soccer-playing, flamboyant third son of the late Libyan leader, Saadi was the commander of Libya’s Special Forces during the civil war. Interpol has issued a “red notice” requesting member countries to arrest him if they find him on their soil, to pave the way for extradition.
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In interviews, Niger and American officials said Gadhafi, 39, is under house arrest in a state guesthouse. But that “guesthouse” is a luxurious, high-walled mansion in one of Niamey’s most affluent neighborhoods, near the American and French embassies.
Since Gadhafi arrived, he has led a normal life, eating at restaurants and dancing at nightclubs early into the morning, according to restaurant and nightclub owners and local journalists.
Over the past three months, though, Niger’s government has ordered him to keep a low profile and stay inside his mansion, after comments he made to al-Arabiya television that he was in contact with Gadhafi loyalists and wanted to retake power in Libya.
At the same time, Niger’s government has refused to extradite him, saying that Gadhafi would never receive a fair trial, raising tensions with Libya’s new rulers. “We won’t accept this demand,” said Morou Amadou, Niger’s justice minister. “We won’t extradite someone where he is certain to face the death penalty.”
Unlike his elder brother Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, Saadi is not wanted by the International Criminal Court at The Hague. In addition to the Interpol warrant, he is the subject of U.N. sanctions for commanding military units that targeted demonstrations during Libya’s revolution. He’s been barred from traveling to other countries.
Saif Gadhafi, who was caught in southern Libya, is being held by Libyan authorities to face trial inside Libya.
Niger owes a lot to Moammar Gadhafi, and he remains deeply popular here. As he did with other African nations, he directed tens of millions of dollars in investments and aid toward Niger.
He built mosques, and roads, as well as the building where Niger’s national assembly meets.
Gadhafi also allowed more than 100,000 Nigeriens to work in Libya; their remittances were vital for several million back in Niger, one of the least developed nations in the world.
When the rebels overran Tripoli, Niger was a key destination for Gadhafi loyalists. In September, a large convoy of Libyan military vehicles, carrying military and government officials, as well as reputedly gold bullion, crossed from Libya into Niger.
The Nigerien government has acknowledged it received 32 Gadhafi loyalists, including relatives and military generals, on “humanitarian grounds.”
The most prominent was Saadi Gadhafi. According to a 2009 U.S. State Department cable, released by WikiLeaks, Saadi had a “troubled past” that included “public scuffles with authorities in Europe,” drug and alcohol abuse, “excessive partying” and “profligate affairs with men and women.” He played for Italian soccer teams but was later barred for failing a drug test.
In November, the Nigerien government granted him asylum.
In December, Mexican authorities said they had foiled a plot by criminals to smuggle Gadhafi into the country. And in February, he told al-Arabiya that his return to Libya was imminent, and claimed “70 percent of Libyans are unhappy with the current circumstances.”
“There is an uprising that will happen everywhere in the country,” Gadhafi told the network. “This will be a new popular uprising.”
That prompted Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council to demand Niger extradite Gadhafi and other ex-regime officials to “preserve its relationship and interests” in Libya.
There are signs that Niger’s government is tired of Gadhafi.
It needs to maintain good relations with Libya, not least because so many Nigeriens depend on remittances sent home by their relatives who work in Libya.
After fleeing the civil war, a growing number of Nigeriens are returning to Libya to seek work.