Moammar Gadhafi's son and one-time heir apparent is now believed to be heading toward Niger, a desert nation just south of Libya where his brother and dozens of Gadhafi loyalists already have sought refuge, a government official said Tuesday.
Rissa ag Boula, an adviser to Niger's president and an elected member of the regional council of the northern Nigerien town of Agadez, spoke to The Associated Press by telephone. He said he was in touch with the ethnic Tuaregs who are helping guide Seif al-Islam Gadhafi across the ocean of dunes that mark the path from Libya to next-door Algeria and finally to Niger.
The ethnic Tuaregs were among Gadhafi's strongest supporters that fought to keep him in power and one of his other sons as well as several of his generals relied on Tuareg guides to reach Niger in September.
"If he comes here, the government will accept him, but the government will also need to respect its international obligations. It's up to him to decide (whether to stay on the run or come to Niger)," Boula said, referring to the fact that Seif al-Islam is wanted by the International Criminal Court.
Boula, who is Tuareg himself and earlier led a rebellion against the Nigerien government that was reportedly funded by Gadhafi, said that Seif al-Islam appeared to be poised to cross into Algeria in order to make his way to Niger. It would be the same route that his brother al-Saadi Gadhafi and more than 30 other Gadhafi loyalists had used in September.
Niger's government has said that members of the Gadhafi regime wanted by the International Criminal will be turned over to the world body.
Al-Saadi Gadhafi, who is not wanted by the the world court but is the subject of a United Nations sanction, and several others considered key regime figures have been placed under house arrest in Niger's capital in a gated compound. The others are also under surveillance but are allowed to leave their villas, Niger's government said.
Seif al-Islam is one of two surviving regime figures that is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity committed during Libya's protracted battle for power.
Because of its large Tuareg population, Niger was among the last countries to recognize the country's new leaders. Mosques and hotels throughout Niger were built by Gadhafi and he remains deeply popular in the nation, making it a natural sanctuary for fleeing members of his inner circle.