DOHA (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam tried, but failed, to undermine rebel morale with his dramatic reappearance in the Libyan capital after being reported captured, a rebel council leader said on Tuesday.
Surrounded by cheering, gun-toting supporters, Saif appeared on the world's airwaves early on Tuesday being interviewed by Western media near a government-controlled Tripoli hotel -- proving wrong rebel reports that he had been detained.
Gaddafi's heir apparent, wanted by the International Criminal Court at The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity, was probably trying to capitalize on the rebels' gaffe in falsely reporting his capture.
"Saif tried to perform some theater in the hopes of sapping joy from the revolution," said Mahmoud Jibril, premier of the rebel National Transitional Council.
"Despite all that, it is important to note that word of his capture had given us a big military and political advantage. Many soldiers surrendered to the rebels," Jibril told a news conference in the Qatari capital Doha.
Rebels stormed Muammar Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli on Tuesday in what is widely seen as the final blow to his 42-year rule, though the long-time leader's whereabouts remain a mystery.
Jibril said the errant report of Saif's capture, which drew public comment from the ICC, was an honest mistake.
"I was informed that the reports of his capture were not confirmed. I told (ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo) that we would inform him as soon as we verified the reports."
The episode damaged the rebels' credibility and threatened to compound a nagging sense of unease among Libya's foreign backers, who include the United States, Britain and France, about the rebels' prospects for running the North African country.
(Reporting by Regan Doherty; writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Tim Pearce)