Cairo — On an April day in 2019, as war raged around Tripoli, two Russian operatives set out from the Libyan capital to meet the man they hoped to install as leader.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son and heir apparent of deposed dictator Col Muammar al Gaddafi, had been holed up in an area around the Zintan plateau ever since his father was killed in a 2011 rebellion. A fugitive from the International Criminal Court (ICC), he was planning to claim what he saw as his rightful place...

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