OBARI, Libya (Reuters) - The chic black sweater and jeans were gone. So too the combat khaki T-shirt of his televised last stand in Tripoli. Designer stubble had become bushy black beard after months on the run.
But the rimless glasses, framing those piercing eyes above that straight fine nose, gave him away despite the flowing nomad robes held close across his face.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, doctor of the London School of Economics, one-time reformer turned scourge of the rebels against his dictator father, was now a prisoner, bundled aboard an old Libyan air force transport plane near the oil-drilling outpost of Obari, deep in the Sahara desert.
The interim government's spokesman billed it as the "final act of the Libyan drama." But there would be no closing soliloquy from the lead player, scion of the dynasty that Muammar Gaddafi, self-styled "king of kings," had once hoped might rule Africa.
A Reuters reporter aboard the flight approached the 39-year-old prisoner as he huddled on a bench at the rear of the growling, Soviet-era Antonov. The man who held court to the world's media in the early months of the Arab Spring was now on a 90-minute flight bound for the town of Zintan near Tripoli.
He sat frowning, silent and seemingly lost in thought for part of the way, nursing his right hand, bandaged around the thumb and two fingers. At other times he chatted calmly with his captors and even posed for a picture.
IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT
Gaddafi's run had come to an end just a few hours earlier, at dead of night on a desert track, as he and a handful of trusted companions tried to thread their way through patrols of former rebel fighters intent on blocking their escape over the border.
"At the beginning he was very scared. He thought we would kill him," said Ahmed Ammar, one of the 15 fighters who captured Gaddafi. The fighters, from Zintan's Khaled bin al-Waleed Brigade, intercepted the fugitives' two 4x4 vehicles 40 miles out in the desert.
"But we talked to him in a friendly way and made him more relaxed and we said, 'We won't hurt you'."
The capture of Saif al-Islam is the latest dramatic chapter in the series of revolts that have swept the Arab world. The first uprising toppled the Ben Ali government in Tunisia early this year.
The upheaval spread to Egypt, forcing out long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak in February; swept Libya, where the capital Tripoli fell to rebels this summer and Muammar Gaddafi died after being beaten and abused by captors last month; and is now threatening the Assad family's four-decade grip on Syria.
Saif al-Islam was the smiling face of the Muammar Gaddafi's power structure. He won personal credibility at the highest echelons of international society, especially in London, where he helped tidy up the reputation of Libya via a personal charitable foundation. He threw that reputation away in the uprising, emerging as one of the hardest of hard-liners against the rebels.
This account of his capture and his final month on the run is based on interviews with the younger Gaddafi's captors and the prisoner himself. The scenes of his flight into captivity were witnessed by the Reuters reporter and a Reuters cameraman and photographer who were also aboard the plane.
FACING DEATH PENALTY
Caught exactly a month after his father met a violent end, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is wanted by the International Criminal Court at The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity - specifically for allegedly ordering the killing of unarmed protesters last spring. Libya's interim leaders want him to stand trial at home and say they won't extradite him; the justice minister said he faces the death penalty.
His attempt to flee began on October 19, under NATO fire from the tribal bastion of Bani Walid, 100 miles from the capital. Ammar and his fellow fighters said they believed he had been hiding since then in the desolate tracts of the mountainous Brak al-Shati region.