Saif al-Islam, the son of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, gestures as he talks to reporters in Tripoli in this file photograph from August 23 this year.

South African mercenaries may have helped Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, cross the Libyan border into Niger and he may be on his way to Zimbabwe.

Gaddafi was killed 10 days ago after his convoy was hit by Nato forces in his home town Sirte, in Libya.

Three of his sons were killed in the war.

A senior official in Libya’s National Transitional Council told the Daily Mail that contacts from South Africa, Mali and another neighbouring country helped to arrange the 39-year-old Al-Islam’s escape to Niger.

However, this could not be verified at the time of going to press.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court has said Al-Islam was negotiating to surrender for trial, while at the same time trying to secure entry to an African nation.

Reuters reported on Saturday that ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had said people connected to the ICC were in contact with Al-Islam’s group, through intermediaries.

London-educated Al-Islam, who was most likely to have succeeded his father as the Libyan leader, along with former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, are both the subject of ICC arrest warrants, charged with crimes against humanity for their response to February’s uprising.

ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said: “It depends where the suspect is and how we can get into contact with him, and what would be necessary to bring him to The Hague. There are different scenarios.”

Al-Islam reportedly wants to hand himself over to the authorities to avoid being captured by Libyan interim government forces, and possibly meeting the same fate as his father.

A source with the NTC told

Reuters that Al-Islam and Al-Senussi were together and being protected by Tuareg nomads.

Meanwhile France, a key backer of the NTC, reminded African states that they were compelled to hand Al-Islam and Al-Senussi over.

“We don’t care whether he (Saif al-Islam) goes on foot, by plane, by boat, by car or on a camel, the only thing that matters is that he belongs in the ICC,” France’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

Al-Islam may be in the company of mercenaries from elsewhere in Africa, possibly including South Africa, NTC officials said.

There have been claims that South African mercenaries were with Gaddafi and his son, Mot’assiem, when they were captured and that South Africans were among those killed when Nato planes attacked Gaddafi’s convoy.

Some South Africans were reportedly killed shortly before the former Libyan leader was killed while other South Africans were apparently wounded and have been stranded in Libya.

Planes have reportedly been standing by at Gauteng’s Lanseria airport as well as in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates to rescue the South Africans as well as Al-Islam and Al-Senussi.

Moreno-Ocampo said Al-Islam was trying to reach a country that would not hand over suspects to the ICC.

South Africa’s International Relations and Co-operation department spokesman Clayson Monyela said last night that it was impossible to independently verify rumours of the involvement of South Africans in attempts to get the two men out of Libya.

“By the very nature of such illegal activities, which will never be sanctioned by the South African government, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to confirm such activity,” he added.

“We know he has a different option because apparently there is a group of mercenaries willing to move him to another African country, probably Zimbabwe,” Moreno-Ocampo was quoted as saying. - Weekend Argus