- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

JOHANNESBURG A fugitive wanted by the International Criminal Court, Moammar Gadhafi’s one-time heir apparent appears to have disappeared in the Sahara Desert’s ocean of dunes and could remain hidden for months in an area more than twice the size of Texas.

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi may be plotting a counterrevolution, scheming about a getaway to a friendly country, or negotiating a surrender to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Nothing has been heard of him since sources on Oct. 28 said Tuareg nomads were escorting him the length of Libya and that he was close to the Mali border.

“My latest information is that they are not in Mali, and they are not in Niger yet, either,” Malian legislator Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh said last week, adding to the mystery of the younger Gadhafi’s whereabouts.

Mr. Gadhafi, a 39-year-old British-educated engineer, could be deliberately feeding disinformation from a desert where national boundaries are unmarked and unpoliced and where smugglers and al Qaeda gunmen roam freely.

Analyst Adam Thiam, a columnist for Le Republicain newspaper in Mali, said life in the desert for long periods outside of isolated oases is nearly impossible, but that a zone in Mali has water, livestock and small game.

However, the area is used by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an extremist group that has “no love of the Gadhafi family,” Mr. Thiam said.

Moammar Gadhafi violently repressed Libya’s own Islamist movement and was a longtime enemy of al Qaeda.

Mr. Gadhafi and his late father’s former chief of military intelligence, Abdullah al-Senoussi, reportedly have been traveling in separate convoys escorted by Tuaregs, the hardy nomads who understand best how to survive in the desert.

Loyalty to the ethnic group trumps nationality, and the Tuaregs’ traditional stomping grounds stretch across North Africa, from Morocco and Algeria to Libya and southwest to Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad.

Mr. Gadhafi and Mr. al-Senoussi are both wanted by the ICC for allegedly organizing and ordering attacks in Libya that killed civilians during the revolt against Moammar Gadhafi.

More than a dozen countries in Africa don’t recognize the international court, but even some that do ignore its arrest warrants amid criticism that the Hague-based court goes after a disproportionate number of Africans.

Sudanese leader Omar Bashir, wanted for genocide and war crimes committed in Darfur, attended a conference in Malawi last month with no problem, though Malawi is a member of the ICC.

In the area where Mr. Gadhafi is thought to be hiding, only Algeria is not a signatory. Algeria was a staunch supporter of Moammar Gadhafi and has given refuge to his wife, a daughter and two other sons, but now is trying to establish ties with Libya’s new leaders.

Mr. Gadhafi is “more problematic than the rest of the family for Algeria,” said Libya’s ambassador to South Africa, Abdalla Alzubedi.

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