The son of Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi has been OK-ed to run for president, even though he was convicted and sentenced to death for war crimes

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is seen on TV being questioned by judges in a trial broadcast live in 2014.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is questioned by judges in a trial broadcast live in 2014.

  • The son and heir-apparent of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has been approved to run for president.
  • Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was previously disqualified over having been convicted of war crimes, but appealed the decision.
  • He is still wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.

A court in Libya has ruled that the son and once heir-apparent of the late despot Muammar Gaddafi can run for president, Reuters reported, adding to the turmoil surrounding an election that Western nations hope will stabilize the fractured country.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the second son of Gaddafi Sr., reemerged last month after a decade of silence to announce his candidacy for Libya’s first-ever election.

But he was disqualified on November 24 on grounds of him having being convicted in absentia and receiving the death sentence in 2015 by a court in Tripoli over war crimes he was accused of committing during his fight against revolutionary groups in 2011. At the time of the conviction, he was being held by rebel group who eventually released him in 2017.

He has denied all wrongdoing.

On Thursday, he successfully appealed the disqualification, his lawyer said, per Reuters.

Gaddafi, who acted as Libya’s de facto prime minister during his father’s reign, is also wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. 

His father ruled Libya for 42 years until 2011, when Gaddafi Sr. was overthrown in a bloody civil war that culminated in the brutal beating of the dictator and his subsequent death at the hands of rebel fighters.

Following his release in 2017, Gaddafi removed himself from the public eye, saying in a New York Times magazine interview in June that he was making a gradual reentry into politics, comparing his comeback to a “striptease.”

Libya has for years been ripped apart by fighting between warring factions, an internationally-backed interim government, and ISIS, following a failed NATO attempt to transition the country to democracy.

Experts say Gaddafi can snap up support from Libyans who yearn for the stability of his father’s regime before the 2011 civil war, according to The Financial Times.

Some tribes and regions that Gaddafi’s father once favored are likely to throw in their support for him as well, FT reported.

But many Libyans, especially those who fought in the revolution against Gaddafi’s family, are outraged that he’s even allowed to run in the election, which is on December 24, Reuters reported.

Emad al-Sayah, chairman of the High National Election Commission, told The Washington Post the upcoming election would be key to determining whether Libyans will finally see peace. The country will “either continue on the track of democracy and peaceful devolution of power or go to square zero, where war will take place,” he said.

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As many as 48,000 civilians have been killed by US airstrikes since 9/11: monitor

People carry a casket at a funeral in Afghanistan.
Caskets for the dead are carried towards the gravesite as relatives and friends attend a mass funeral for members of a family that is said to have been killed in a U.S. drone airstrike, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

  • Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the US has conducted major airstrikes in at least seven countries.
  • Most civilians were killed during the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the strikes on ISIS in Syria.
  • The deadliest years for civilians were 2003 and 2017, the report found.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In the 20 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the United States has bombed more than a half-dozen nations as part of its global war on terror, overthrowing Saddam Hussein and killing Osama bin Laden. But over the course of more than 93,000 airstrikes, a new report from the independent monitoring group Airwars finds that as many 48,000 civilians lost their lives too, a grim tally that underscores the danger of relying on air power to combat terrorism.

The finding comes as President Joe Biden is pledging a new chapter in US foreign policy. In his speech marking the withdrawal of US forces from Kabul, Biden said his decision to end that occupation was about more than just Afghanistan. “It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries,” he said, and moving away from “large-scale troop deployments.”

But the Airwars report, released Monday, illustrates that pivoting away from boots on the ground does not necessarily mean fewer civilians being killed. Drawing on US military data, media reports of civilian harm, and its own researchers, the UK-based monitor found that since 2001 “US actions likely killed at least 22,679 civilians, with that number potentially as high as 48,308.”

The deadliest years were 2003 and 2017 – respectively, the US invasion of Iraq and the climax of the US-led war on the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. Relying on the maximum estimate, “2017 is in fact the worst year for civilians,” the report found, with up to 19,623 killed.

Joe Dyke, a senior investigator at Airwars, told Insider that the death toll in 2017 – former President Donald Trump’s first year in office – was likely, in part, a product of decreased concern for innocent life.

“We have seen in Yemen that President Trump significantly reduced transparency around US actions and in some respects loosened restrictions on US military operations, including measures aimed at protecting civilians,” he said. Indeed, a previous report by Airwars indicated that Trump may have bombed Yemen more than an all of his predecessors, having expanded the list of eligible targets, there and elsewhere, for CIA and Pentagon airstrikes.

But Trump, who promised to bring troops home while “bombing the hell” out of the countries they left, was not the one initiated the war on the Islamic State – nor the first president to prefer air power to boots on the ground. Under Trump, “the campaigns in Mosul and Raqqa were also among the most intense urban fighting since the Second World War,” Dyke noted, but “the course for them had been set under President Obama.” In Raqqa alone, more than 1,600 civilians were killed as the US sought to dislodge ISIS from its declared Syrian capital, per Airwars and Amnesty International.

President Biden has, thus far, dramatically curtailed airstrikes amid a formal review of US drone policy. But just last month he approved a drone strike against an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan that killed 10 members of one family, including children. Journalists, still on the ground in Kabul, were quickly able to interview the survivors; the Pentagon has since conceded that innocents may have been killed.

But many more airstrikes take place far away from the presence of international media, with claims of “collateral damage” going unheard. In Yemen, for example, it took years before the US military admitted to Insider that one of its airstrikes injured two civilians on a motorbike – a claim first made by an anonymous user on social media.

For that reason, Airwars says it would be wrong to assume it’s more conservative estimate of innocent people killed is the more likely reflection of the actual tally.

“Generally, we think that civilian harm is very often underestimated,” Dyke said. Several times, the US government has officially acknowledged casualties that were. That suggests “many other cases may have gone unreported in conflict zones where reporting is often partial and victims are focused on looking after their remaining family members.”

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A rogue killer drone ‘hunted down’ a human target without being instructed to, UN report says

Stock photo of a dron
Stock photo of a drone flying.

  • A deadly drone “hunted down” a human target without being instructed to do so, according to a UN report.
  • The incident took place during clashes in Libya last year, the Daily Star reported.
  • Experts are sounding the alarm about the lack of regulation around using “killer robots.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A “lethal” weaponized drone “hunted down a human target” without being told to for the first time, according to a UN report seen by the New Scientist.

The March 2020 incident saw a KARGU-2 quadcopter autonomously attack a human during a conflict between Libyan government forces and a breakaway military faction, led by the Libyan National Army’s Khalifa Haftar, the Daily Star reported.

The Turkish-built KARGU-2, a deadly attack drone designed for asymmetric warfare and anti-terrorist operations, targeted one of Haftar’s soldiers while he tried to retreat, according to the paper.

The drone, which can be directed to detonate on impact, was operating in a “highly effective” autonomous mode that required no human controller, the New York Post said.

“The lethal autonomous weapons systems were programmed to attack targets without requiring data connectivity between the operator and the munition: in effect, a true ‘fire, forget and find’ capability,” the report from the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Libya said.

Read more: Etsy is awash with illicit products it claims to ban, from ivory to dangerous weapons and mass-produced good

This is likely the first time drones have attacked humans without instructions to do so, Zak Kellenborn, a national security consultant who specializes in unmanned systems and drones, confirmed in the report.

Kallenborn, however, has concerns about the future of autonomous drones. “How brittle is the object recognition system?” he said. “How often does it misidentify targets?”

Jack Watling, a researcher on land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told the New Scientist that this incident demonstrates the “urgent and important” need to discuss the potential regulation of autonomous weapons.

Human Rights Watch has called for an end to so-called “killer robots” and is campaigning for a “preemptive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons,” according to a report by the charity.

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Facebook posts and Cameo videos by Charlie Sheen and Dolph Lundgren were used by Russian trolls to persuade Libya to release a suspected spy

Charlie Sheen Cameo Maksim Shugalei Libya Russia
Actor Charlie Sheen voicing support for jailed Russian sociologist Maksim Shugalei in a Cameo video

  • The Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm, used Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Cameo in a coordinated effort to get the suspected spy Maxim Shugaley released from a Libyan prison. 
  • Charlie Sheen, Dolph Lundgren, and other actors on Cameo recorded supportive messages, which were shared on the pro-Shugaley Facebook pages in Libya. 
  • Arrested in Tripoli in May 2019, Maxim Shugaley was charged in June 2020 with “actions that harmed the State’s security,” according to a statement from the Libyan government given to the Anadolu Agency news service. 
  • Russian advocates for Shugaley’s release created a misinformation campaign, shooting a “documentary” about him for Russia Today, then distributing it via Facebook and Instagram in Libya, according to Facebook and the Internet Observatory. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

After 18 months in Libyan prisons, alleged Russian spy Maxim Shugaley this month walked free, boarded a plane, and was greeted in Moscow as a returning hero. 

During his long absence, Russia Today had aired an action thriller called “Shugaley” that dramatized his arrest, complete with explosions, gunfights, and torture scenes. The film claimed he’d been falsely imprisoned. It proved so popular that they released a sequel. Even Vladimir Putin, Russia’s longtime leader, had called for Shugaley to be released.

A roster of Hollywood actors also had recorded short supportive messages for him via the Cameo app. “Wall Street” star Charlie Sheen did one, speaking to Shugaley from the sparsely decorated kitchen where he did many of his Cameo videos. 

“Do not give up,” Sheen said in a version of his video posted online. 

As he shakes his fist at the camera, Cyrillic subtitles translate his message into Russian. “Freedom will come. We insist that freedom is – is – is – is in your future, on your horizon,” he said. 

But internet security researchers in the US had an altogether different opinion of Shugaley, according to information about Russian troll networks released this week by Facebook and the Internet Observatory, a cyber policy research group at Stanford University.

To them, Shugaley – alternatively written as “Максим Шугалей” and “Maksim Shugalei” – had been a central figure in a Russian effort to spread misinformation in Libya.

Maxim Shugaley and Samir Seifan
Maxim Shugaley, right, and Samir Seifan in Libya.

He was affiliated with one of Saint Petersburg’s most well-known troll networks, the Internet Research Agency (IRA,) according to media reports and Stanford researchers. Investigator Robert Mueller, in his final report to the House Intelligence Committee, called the IRA a troll farm, saying it had worked to get President Donald Trump elected. 

The Russia Today movie and Cameo spots were distributed in Libya as part of an IRA web of misinformation that included hundreds of Facebook and Instagram accounts. 

Shugalei Film Screenshot Russia Libya Facebook Instagram
An actor portraying Russian sociologist Maksim Shugalei in a Libyan prison, from the film “Shugalei.”

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identity and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency,” Facebook’s Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy, and David Agranovich, global threat disruption lead, wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.

Arrested, held, and charged in Libya

Shugaley and his interpreter, Samir Seifan, were detained in May 2019 and charged as spies in June 2020. They were accused of “actions that harmed the State’s security,” according to a statement given to the Anadolu Agency news service. 

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.JPG
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in Moscow.

Russian officials said the two were researchers with the Foundation for the Protection of National Values. But Libya said they were actually working for Wagner Group, a Russian military contractor. Libya said they’d been working with rebel groups to overthrow the government.  

In public, Russian diplomats trying to free the pair were seeking talks with the head Libya’s Presidential Council, Fayez al-Sarraj.

“We regularly and insistently raise this topic at all meetings with representatives of the Tripoli authorities, demanding an immediate and unconditional release of the Russian citizens,” said Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, in July. 

In private, members of the IRA were flooding Facebook and Instagram in Libya with positive images of the prisoner. Researchers at Facebook and Stanford detailed the “coordinated network” in Libya that helped get secure release.

A few days after the release, Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, said Russia’s misinformation network in Libya amounted to “political shenanigans.”  

“The Libyan government’s release of two Wagner operatives caught undermining Libyan politics is just another example of how Russia uses mercenaries and political shenanigans rather than open democratic means to advance its interests,” he said. 

He noted that Russians had also printed counterfeit Libyan money, violated UN arms embargoes in Libya, and acted in “its own interests to the detriment of the entire region.” 

The Facebook network responsible for information about Shugaley was just one of three removed last week, but it was the biggest of them. The other two were focused on different regions, and one was based in France, according to Facebook.

The network supporting Shugaley had also been operating on Twitter, with about 30 accounts, according to Stanford researchers. One account had about 12,000 followers. 

Twitter on Wednesday told Business Insider it was still investigating the network, but had taken action on a “small” number of accounts. “We do not have country-specific information to share at this time and our investigations are ongoing,” a Twitter spokesperson said via email.

How did the misinformation campaign work?

First, a production company run by Alexander Malkevich, head of the IRA, raised money to produce “Shugaley.” Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was mentioned in Mueller’s report on hacking in the US, was in charge of the company, Aurum LLC, that held the film’s copyright, according to last week’s report from Stanford researchers, who cited previous reporting on Shugaley and the IRA from The New York Times, Foreign Policy, Bloomberg News, and BBC Africa

Shugalei film screenshot prison
An actor portraying Maxim Shugaley in a Libyan prison in Russia Today’s “Shugaley” movie.

The movie aired on Russia Today’s RT Documentary Channel in May 2020. Shugaley is portrayed in a flattering light. In the film’s narrative, he was in Libya as an aid worker before being captured by terrorists, not the Libyan government. RT called it a “harrowing yet true story.” 

Part of the RT summary reads: “Privy to information that could bear serious consequences for the puppet government, the researchers were subjected to torture and denied justice. The film pays tribute to these real-life heroes and raises awareness of their fate.”

The movie has a 9.72-star rating out of a possible 10. 

Officially, it wasn’t a Russian government production, but the Foreign Ministry issued a press release to coincide with its launch. The ministry said in a statement at the time that diplomats “will continue using all available opportunities and channels to influence the Libyan authorities.” 

Members of the IRA created fake Facebook and Instagram accounts in Libya. They pretended to be locals. They built an audience of millions, and sought to attract attention from local journalists. 


In all, they created 211 Facebook accounts, and 125 pages, according to Facebook. They made 17 Instagram accounts, and 16 groups. Most criticized the Libyan government, some promoted Russian policy, and at least one Facebook page focused exclusively on Shugaley, according to a report released last week by Stanford researchers. 

“The Facebook Page [about Shugaley] had 103 posts overall, and included regular updates detailing Malkievich and the Foundation’s efforts to pressure Libya into releasing Shugalei and Seifan, as well as quotes about the matter from prominent Russian figures such as Vladimir Putin and Alexander Dugin,” wrote Stanford researchers.

Facebook pages dedicated to “Shugaley” and its sequel, “Shugaley-2,” included screen shots and video links. As of this week, the trailer for “Shugalei” had about 390,000 views on YouTube. On Russian social media site, another version had 17.9 million views. The full movie, which was posted in its entirety on Russia Today’s Documentary YouTube channel, had about 750,000 views. 

On Instagram, about 99,500 people followed the Russian’s accounts. The accounts asked Libyan influencers to tag themselves wearing “Shugalei” movie T-shirts.

The network also shared images of Maria Butina, a spy who’d infiltrated Washington, holding a one-woman protest outside the Libyan embassy.

Hollywood gets involved via Cameo

Sheen was just one of a few high-profile Hollywood names that sent warm wishes to Shugaley. “Snatch” actor Vinnie Jones and “Rocky IV” star Dolph Lundgren each recorded their own videos, which were later posted on “Machete” star Danny Trejo shot one, too, as first captured on Shooting the Messenger

Dolph Lundgren Maxim Shugaley
“Rocky IV” actor Dolph Lundgren in a Cameo video supporting Maxim Shugaley.

“You’re a great guy,” said Lundgren. “You have our support. Never give up, and remember – freedom is the only way.”

At times, the actors appeared to stumble over Shugaley’s name in the scripts they read. It’s unclear who paid for the Cameo appearances, but the videos made their way to the network set up to distribute positive news about Shugaley in Libya, said Stanford researchers.

A Cameo spokesperson declined to comment. 

About 5.7 million accounts followed at least one of the pages run by Russia in Libya, said Facebook. The page owners spent about $186,000 on ads, paying in dollars and rubles. 

‘Welcome Home!’


After eight months of Russia’s online campaign, the Libyan government agreed to release the two men. 

On December 10, Shugaley and Seifan were driven to Tripoli’s airport. They were handed over to former Russian Ambassador Libya Ivan Molotkov, according to a short statement read that day by the the Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman in Moscow. 

Said Zakharova: “The Russian deputy minister expressed satisfaction with the decision of the Libyan authorities and thanked everyone who assisted the release of the Russian nationals.”

On Twitter, an official ministry account posted a photo of Shugaley stepping off a jet in Russia. It said: “Welcome Home!”

On arrival in Moscow, Shugaley and Seifan were reportedly each given 18 million rubles – about $246,420. The money came from a company owned by Prigozhin, who had been involved in the making of the “Shugaley” film and had ties to the Wagner Group, according to a report in The Moscow Times. The payment amounted to 1 million rubles for each month they’d been in prison. 

Five days after they arrived, the IRA network was removed from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Have a tip? Send it to Kevin Shalvey by encrypted email at or via Signal message at +44 7587 300383.

Reporter Kevin Shalvey worked at Facebook from 2018 to 2019.

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