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LIBIA: Qaddafi’s Family Tree

Most every family keeps photo albums, holding cherished moments. Memories are framed. They’re placed on a mantle or hung on a wall.

As Tyler Hicks discovered over the weekend, the family of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is no different.

On Saturday, Mr. Hicks found himself standing outside a residence inside Bab al-Aziziya, the compound of Col. Qaddafi. The formerly secure headquarters were taken over the morning of Aug. 23.

The house, a smaller, and less-photographed building, has been hit by air strikes. Windows are blown out and walls blackened from fire.

As he made his way toward it, Mr. Hicks saw a man leaving with some hats and unusual-looking books. When he asked where the stranger had found the collection, he was pointed toward a basement room. Holding a small flashlight, Mr. Hicks ventured down a dark, smoky hallway. He could hear the sound of shuffling as people rooted through rooms nearby.

In what looked like a family media room, Mr. Hicks found shelves holding framed photographs. On the ground were loose photos and VHS tapes. There were certificates, awards and paintings. Photos of Colonel Qaddafi with world leaders.

And there were family pictures. The Qaddafis playing soccer. Baby photos. Colonel Qaddafi as a young lieutenant in the late 1960s. Later, as a father. And finally, a bizarre figure; something of an object of ridicule. Some of the images were small, three by five inches. A picture of Seif al-Islam atop a horse was a glossy, poster-sized print. [Slide 3.]

“Those are the photographs that I was looking for,” Mr. Hicks said early Monday morning from Tripoli as gunfire — celebratory and incessant — went off down the street from his hotel. “It’s usually the typical handshake photo. But mixed among all those images were these moments where he let his guard down and we actually saw something other than those staged moments.”

Having seen looters destroy photographs in Iraq, Mr. Hicks had a feeling the Qaddafi photographs would not last long where he found them. He brought many of them back to his hotel. Hoping to identify some of the smiling faces, he took his laptop to the lobby and asked around. Very quickly, a small crowd gathered around the screen.

“I asked some rebel fighters and I was surprised,” he said. “They could not identify a lot of people in the photographs because they’ve never seen photos of them.”

That, he said, signified just how private Colonel Qaddafi’s family life had been. Until now, the labyrinthine headquarters — and the people inside — have remained something of a mystery.

“For the population to now be able to go in there, it’s really interesting for them,” Mr. Hicks said.

None of the images — which were likely taken by dozens of photographers over the years — will remain in Mr. Hicks’s possession. He has made arrangement to hand them over to a Libyan official who will handle the archive appropriately.



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