Saif Al Islam and Abdullah Al Sanussi. Image Credit: Reuters

Dakar: Muammar Gaddafi's intelligence chief, who is wanted by Interpol, fled to Mali overnight after making his way across Niger where he has been hiding for several days in the country's northern desert, an adviser to the president of Niger said yesterday.

The presidential adviser, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter, said Abdullah Al Sanussi entered Mali on Wednesday night via the Kidal region, which shares a border with Niger.

He is guarded by about a dozen people and his convoy was piloted by ethnic Tuaregs from Mali.

The official said Gaddafi's hunted son, Saif Al Islam, is also on his way to Mali and is travelling across the invisible line separating Algeria from Niger. The area, an ungoverned expanse of dunes, stretching for hundreds of miles, has been used for years by drug traffickers and smugglers. "Sanussi is in Mali... he arrived yesterday," said the adviser, who is also an influential elder in the ethnic Tuareg community, which overwhelmingly supported Gaddafi and remains loyal to him despite Niger's official stance backing the country's new rulers.

House arrest

"Saif is going to Mali too. He is right now between Niger and Algeria. He is in the territory at the frontier between the two, heading to Mali," the adviser said. "For the moment, they do not plan to approach the government. They are protected by the Tuaregs... and they are choosing to stay in the desert." Both the son and the intelligence chief are wanted by the International Criminal Court which issued warrants for their arrest in May for crimes against humanity committed during the long struggle for power in Libya.

About 30 other regime loyalists, including another Gaddafi son, Al Saadi, fled to Niger in September, but were apprehended by Niger's government. Al Saadi and several high-ranking generals were placed under house arrest, while the rest are under surveillance.

The official said it is reasonable to assume that the intelligence chief and the son are heading to Mali.