Published November 17, 2014
Seif al-Arab Gadhafi escaped a U.S. airstrike targeting his father's compound in Tripoli in 1986. Twenty-five years later, the Libyan leader's second-youngest son was reportedly killed in a NATO airstrike.
Libyan officials announced on state TV that Seif al-Arab, whose name means Sword of the Arabs, was killed along with three of Moammar Gadhafi's grandchildren in a NATO airstrike against his house in the Tripoli neighborhood of Ghargour.
The Libyan leader and his wife were inside but escaped unharmed, according to Libyan officials.
Seif al-Arab, 29, was one of the least prominent of Gadhafi's eight biological children, with no clear political or military power. He clearly tried to avoid rivalries as his siblings jockeyed for clout.
Seif al-Arab was four when U.S. warplanes bombs his father's compound at Bab al-Azaziya in 1986 after Libya was blamed for masterminding a bombing in West Berlin that killed an American soldier and a woman. His 15-month-old adopted sister was killed and his younger brother Khamis badly wounded in the attack.
Seif al-Arab was hospitalized but discharged after a few days, and his injuries were never fully known to reporters.
He spent most of his later years in Germany, where he was said to be studying for an economics graduate degree.
His elder brother, Seif al-Islam, is believed to have been groomed to succeed his father. The youngest Gadhafi, Khamis, 27, leads an elite military brigade named after him, known to be Libya's most well-trained.
Three other older brothers, Al-Saadi, Al-Moatassem and Hannibal, have been engaged in either senior military and national security advisory posts or business deals, and recently began competing with Seif al-Islam, who has appeared to be monopolizing his father's and international attention, according to U.S. diplomatic cables published by the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks.
The cables described a brewing sibling rivalry that was expected to bode ill for Libya's political transition ahead of the developing upheaval. The only daughter, Aisha, a lawyer in her mid-thirties, was also vying for a prominent role, often disagreeing with Seif al-Islam.
While the cables written in 2009 portray a bitter competition between the siblings over power, Seif al-Arab was absent from any alignment or taking sides.
He remained largely in the shadows, although, like his brothers, he had a penchant for the high life. He has spent his recent years in Munich, where he had a few run-ins with the law. The flamboyant Gadhafis were embroiled in a number of lawsuits in Europe, involving fast cars, alcohol abuse. Hannibal caused a diplomatic tiff between Libya and Switzerland after he allegedly beat his servants in a Swiss hotel.
Seif al-Arab's incidents paled in comparison. In 2006, he was involved in a brawl with a Munich nightclub bouncer who kicked out his companion for the night because she attempted to undress on the dance floor, the German Der Spiegel magazine reported.
In 2007, he even saw his house and hotel suite raided by police over allegations of illegally possessing weapons despite his claims of enjoying diplomatic immunity.
Between November 2006 and July 2010 police led investigations against Gadhafi's son on 10 accounts, ranging from speeding incidents to bodily harm and possession of illegal weapons, Bavaria's state justice ministry confirmed last month. All the investigations against him, however, were dropped.
German media reported that Gadhafi's son returned to Libya in February and Bavaria's Interior Ministry later said he had been declared a persona-non-grata.
The U.S. diplomatic cables say Seif al-Arab pursued "ill-defined business interests." This may explain why he appeared on the recently drafted U.S. sanctions list against Libyan officials and Gadhafi family.
Even photos of him are scarce. On Sunday, Ibrahim distributed a headshot showing him with a full black beard and wearing a black shirt.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim was the first to announce that Seif al-Arab was killed in Saturday's airstrike. But in a sign of how little was known about Seif al-Arab, Ibrahim initially misidentified him as Gadhafi's youngest son, who is "well known" to his colleagues in one of the German universities. Ibrahim had to correct himself the next day, confirming for reporters that Seif al-Arab was Gadhafi's second-youngest son.
Rebels welcomed the news of the airstrike, but some cast doubt on claims Seif al-Arab had been killed, alleging it was a ploy by Gadhafi to gain sympathy and discredit the international military campaign.
State TV showed scores of Libyans chanting as they entered the hospital where those wounded in the attack were treated: "Be pleased our leader. Your son and grandchildren are in heaven."
The funeral for those killed in the airstrike is planned for Monday.