Senussi, who for decades before the despot’s fall last November inspired fear and hatred in ordinary Libyans and was viewed as Gaddafi’s right-hand man, is sought by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity. The whereabouts of Senussi, the last major figure at large from Gaddafi’s regime, had been unclear for months.
But his arrest immediately raised questions as to where he would be tried. The ICC urged Mauritania to send him to The Hague while the French government said it wanted him extradited to France, citing his alleged role in the 1989 bombing of an airliner over Niger in which 54 French nationals died.
Libya also said it wanted to extradite Senussi to Tripoli.
“Today we confirm the news of the arrest of Abdullah al-Senussi,” Libyan intermim government spokesman Nasser al-Manee told a news conference in the capital. “He was arrested in Nouakchott airport and there was a young man with him. We think it is his son,” he said, confirming a Mauritanian state news agency report that Senussi was arrested with a false Malian passport arriving from Casablanca, in Morocco.
France, which led western backing for the popular uprising that toppled Gaddafi, said it had co-operated with Mauritanian authorities over the arrest and that it would send an arrest warrant to Mauritania.
The statement from the office of president Nicolas Sarkozy noted that Senussi had been sentenced in absentia for the 1989 bombing of a UTA airliner, in which a total of 170 people were killed. Families of the victims immediately demanded he face justice in France.
Yet Libya said that he would receive a fair trial there, while the ICC also declared its desire for him to be transferred to The Hague war crimes court – creating a possible legal tug-of-war over Senussi.
“For the time being, there is an ICC arrest warrant for him, and the court requests it to be implemented. This remains valid, unless the ICC judges decide otherwise,” ICC spokesman Fadi El-Abdallah said.
Senussi is suspected of a leading role in killing more than 1,200 inmates at Tripoli’s Abu Salim jail in 1996.