Mohammed Fitouri and his housemates burst out into their quiet north London street this morning to cheer the capture of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator’s son who they and the police say owns the seven-bedroom house where they’ve squatted since March.
Libyan rebels swept into Tripoli, the capital, and declared today that Muammar Qaddafi’s 42-year rule is over. Saif al-Islam was arrested in the city, said Mohamad Al Akari, an adviser to the National Transitional Council. Another son, Mohammed, was also detained, Al Jazeera reported. Al Arabiya television said a third Qaddafi son, Saadi, has been arrested.
“We were outside celebrating at 5 a.m.,” Fitouri said through a ground-floor window of the Hampstead Green mansion in the borough of Camden. “We were up until 7 a.m. watching the news. There was hugging and shouting, we’re so happy.”
Libyan-born Fitouri and at least 10 others moved into the 10 million-pound ($16 million) house in one of London’s most affluent neighborhoods on March 9 after a newspaper identified the owner. The group initially called itself “Topple the Tyrants” and hung banners from the windows criticizing the regime and supporting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-backed movement to overthrow it.
The squatters lowered their profile as the battle for Libya wore on. The only sign of the house’s occupants today was the word “Libya” spelled out on the front door in badges depicting the country’s flag.
The registered owner of the property is Capitana Seas Ltd., a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands that paid 10 million pounds for the house on May 11, 2009, according to the title deed. As of March 10, 2011, the owner can’t dispose of the house without the consent of the Treasury’s Asset Freezing Unit, according to land registry documents.
London’s Metropolitan Police consider the property to belong to Saif al-Islam, spokesman Richard Jones said in March.
The Treasury has frozen 12 billion pounds of Libyan assets since the conflict began, information obtained by Bloomberg through a U.K. Freedom of Information Act request showed.
The Georgian-style mansion on Winnington Close was listed for sale in July 2009 for 12.5 million pounds, according to Zoopla.co.uk, a property website. Zoopla now values it at 3.1 million pounds.
“My husband saw them outside the house at 5 a.m. celebrating,” neighbor Michelle Niarchos said of the squatters. “I think they’re pretty tired now.”
People inside the house sustained themselves through the night on a diet of rolling news coverage in Arabic, pots of tea and pita bread until daybreak, Fitouri said.
“We’re happy that Libya is falling into the hands of the people,” he said as he pulled a blind down to cover the window. “I’m tired and I’m going to bed now.”