Libya, France and ICC compete for custody of Gaddafi intelligence chief
Gaddafi’s brother-in-law and spymaster Abdullah al-Senussi seized after flying into Mauritania on false passport
A three-way battle for custody of the Gaddafi regime’s spymaster was threatening to break out following his arrest while trying to enter Mauritania on a fake passport over the weekend.
Abdullah al-Senussi, 62, Muammar Gaddafi’s brother-in-law and former intelligence chief, is wanted for trial by Libya, France and the international criminal court in The Hague following his arrest on Sunday in the dictatorship on the west African coast that straddles sub-Saharan and north Africa.
Competing calls for his extradition intensified as the ICC, which wants to arrest Senussi for masterminding civilian attacks during the Libyan uprising, confirmed it would seek his extradition on two counts of crimes against humanity, murder and persecution.
An ICC spokesman, Fadi El Abdallah, said the court was talking to Mauritania. “We will ask them for their co-operation in order to surrender him,” he said.
But Libya’s National Transitional Council formally demanded his extradition to Tripoli, where one of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, whose arrest is also sought by the ICC, is due to go on trial in the next few weeks. Senussi is wanted for trial in Libya for his alleged role in the killing of more than 1,200 inmates at Abu Salim prison, Tripoli, in 1996.
“We insist that Senussi is extradited to Libya,” said an NTC spokesman, Mohammed al-Harizy. “There are demands from the ICC and France to get Senussi, but the priority is to deliver Senussi to Libya.”
A further extradition request is being made by France, which confirmed that it had played a role in the arrest of Senussi.
The former spy chief has already been convicted in France in absentia for a terrorist attack on a French airliner, which exploded over Niger in 1989, killing 170 people, including 54 French nationals.
The Mauritanian government has yet to comment on its likely course of action. A source in the capital, Nouakchott, told the Guardian that Senussi – who was arrested as he entered the country on a flight from Casablanca with a false Malian passport – was being held by security officials at an unidentified location.
“Senussi was transported by security agents to a location in Nouakchott,” said the source, who did not want to be named. “But no one knows what the Mauritanian government will do with him.”
Experts say it is impossible to predict how Mauritania will respond to the rival requests for Senussi’s extradition. Although Mauritania is not a member of the ICC, the court’s warrant was issued after a UN security council resolution – backed then by Libya’s new government – which requires all states to co-operate.
“There is a legal obligation that falls on all states to surrender Senussi to the international criminal court,” said international lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice QC. “Diplomatically, the safest course would be to hand him over to France, where he would face a retrial, and once that was over France would be obliged, as a ratifying member of the ICC, to hand him over.”
But the court has come in for strong criticism for already having failed to secure the extradition of Saif al-Islam, amid concerns that he will be executed following the death of his father last October.
Mishana Hosseinioun, who has petitioned the ICC over its failure to extradite Saif al-Islam from Libya, said: “The principles of international law have been abandoned by both the ICC and the Libyans.
“The ICC has been silent on these cases, giving Libya tacit approval to go ahead with trial without legal jurisdiction to try these individuals,” she added.
Calls for Senussi to be extradited directly to The Hague have been widely supported by international human rights groups.
Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Senussi’s arrest is a crucial step for justice, given the magnitude of the crimes he is accused of. Now, to ensure justice, it’s imperative that Mauritania hand him over to the ICC for fair trial.”
Interpol issued an alert on Sunday seeking the arrest and extradition of Senussi. There was speculation that Libyan authorities may have requested the red notice in an attempt to ensure they take custody of the former spy chief.
Meanwhile, one person died in Tripoli during clashes between a powerful militia from Zintan in Libya’s western mountains and armed residents of Abu Salim, a district once loyal to Gaddafi.