The International Criminal Court (ICC) has ordered Libya to hand over Abdullah al-Senussi – the man suspected of having orchestrated the Lockerbie bombing.
Experts believe that Senussi, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s former spy chief, has information that could help the US and UK establish the full facts about the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, in which 270 people died. But the order places the Hague-based court on a collision course with Libya’s new rulers, who say Gaddafi-era leaders in their custody should face local justice over charges of mass- killings and other atrocities.
Senussi is suspected of having been responsible for recruiting Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the only man convicted in connection with the bombing, who died in May last year following his release from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds in August 2009 by justice secretary Kenny MacAskill.
Both Senussi and Megrahi were members of one of Libya’s biggest tribes, the Magarha.
Yesterday, ICC judges said Libya must extradite Senussi over his alleged role in orchestrating reprisals against protesters in the 2011 uprising that overthrew Gaddafi.
“Libya remains under obligation to comply with the surrender request,” the judges said.
They also insisted that he should be allowed to see his lawyer, adding they would decide later how to respond if the north African state continues to hold Senussi. The court has the power to refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council.
“The ICC has ordered an immediate halt to Libya’s unseemly rush to drag Mr al-Senussi to the gallows before the law has taken its course,” said Ben Emmerson, Senussi’s British lawyer before the ICC.
Senussi was extradited back to Libya from Mauritania in September last year. He had fled Libya in March after Gaddafi’s downfall and was arrested as he flew into Mauritania from Morocco on a false passport.
Libya has become a test case of the effectiveness of the ten-year-old ICC, which relies on the co-operation of member countries to arrest suspects and enforce its orders.
A court-appointed lawyer for Gaddafi’s London-educated son, Saif al-Islam, was detained in Libya for a month alongside three other court officials when she tried to visit her jailed client.
Since then, court officials and lawyers have had no contact with Saif al-Islam or Senussi.
Allegations surfaced recently that Libya paid Mauritania $200 million (£127m) to ignore the ICC warrant, and send Senussi to Tripoli rather than to The Hague. It is believed Senussi’s trial will see some of the closest secrets of the Gaddafi regime laid bare. Libya’s prime minister, Abdurrahim el-Keib, has called Senussi the ousted regime’s “black box”, referring to the inflight recorder used to investigate air crashes.
Despite having risen from relatively low beginnings, Senussi became one of Libya’s most powerful individuals. His marriage to Gaddafi’s sister-in-law saw him brought into the ruling circle, taking on various senior roles including deputy chief of external security.
He was also said to be a close adviser to Saif al-Islam, according to leaked US embassy documents.
The former intelligence chief is thought to have information about Libyans kidnapped and assassinated in Europe and elsewhere during Gaddafi’s rule, and the financing of terrorist organisations, especially in Africa.
France wants to question him in connection with the bombing of a passenger plane in 1989. He has also been linked to a plot to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in 2003.
Senussi is believed to have overseen the building of a secret nuclear plant in Libya’s southern desert, the whereabouts of which has never been revealed.
He was already on a US blacklist of senior Libyan officials whose assets can be frozen if found within US jurisdiction.