New York: A high-profile son of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi said on Wednesday his family had forged an alliance with Islamist rebels to drive out the secular opposition to his father`s 40-year rule.
Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, who along with his father had long branded the entire opposition as radical extremists, told The New York Times: "The liberals will escape or be killed... We will do it together."
"Libya will look like Saudi Arabia, like Iran. So what?" he added, in what the Times described as an hour-long interview that stretched past midnight in a nearly deserted Tripoli hotel.
Seif, who had long served as the face of the regime in the West as he appeared in suits and ties and spoke fluent English, came to the interview sporting a scraggly beard and traditional dress while fingering prayer beads.
He claimed to have negotiated the pact with Ali Sallabi, a leading Islamist in the rebel-held east. Sallabi acknowledged their conversations to the Times but denied the Islamists had switched sides.
The Gaddafi regime has long accused the revolt of being an al Qaeda plot and has sought to portray itself as a bulwark against an Islamist takeover of the oil-rich North African country.
The rebels include some Islamists, but insist they are united in wanting to overthrow Gaddafi and establish a democratic government.
Gaddafi said the Islamists were "the real force on the ground" and that Western powers would have to come to terms with them.
"I know they are terrorists. They are bloody. They are not nice. But you have to accept them," he said.
The interview could have been aimed at exploiting recent cracks in the rebels` ranks following the killing of their top military leader General Abdel Fatah Yunis in circumstances that remain opaque.
The rebels rounded up more than 60 people with alleged links to Muammar al-Gaddafi who are suspected in Yunis` murder following an hours-long gunbattle earlier this week in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
Seif repeated the government`s contention that Islamists were behind the killing of Yunis, who was Muammar al-Gaddafi`s right-hand man for decades prior to his defection earlier this year.
"They decided to get rid of those people -- the ex-military people like Abdel Fatah and the liberals -- to take control of the whole operation," Seif told the Times. "In other words, to take off the mask."