Former Gadafy spy chief extradited from Mauritania


SPORTING A long, grey-streaked beard, the man Libyans refer to as Muammar Gadafy’s “black box” stepped off a plane in Tripoli yesterday and into a brewing row over where he might be tried for human rights abuses dating back decades.

Abdullah al-Senussi, Mr Gadafy’s much feared former director of intelligence, is one of post-Gadafy Libya’s most wanted men. Libya, France and the International Criminal Court (ICC) had all pressed for his extradition from Mauritania, where he had been in custody since March after entering the country illegally.

Libya’s interim government wants to try Mr Senussi in connection with some of the Gadafy regime’s most notorious abuses, including the massacre of 1,200 inmates at Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison in 1996.

The arrest of a lawyer who represented the families of those killed in Abu Salim was the spark that ignited the revolt that last year dislodged Mr Gadafy.

Mr Senussi is also accused of orchestrating the regime’s brutal response to the uprising.

“The black box of Gadafy will soon be opened and I hope with that our wounds will begin to heal,” said Mohammed Busidra, a man who spent more than two decades incarcerated as a suspected dissident, much of it in Abu Salim.

“Everyone here wants to see this man brought to justice.”

France wants to question Mr Senussi in connection with the bombing of a French UTA passenger plane in 1989, in which 54 French citizens died. The ICC has indicted him for crimes against humanity.

Government sources in Mauritania said he had been transferred to Tripoli “on the basis of guarantees given by the Libyan authorities”.

Libyan officials say Mr Senussi, who was married to Mr Gadafy’s sister-in-law and was a close confidant of the former Libyan leader, was privy to several infamous episodes during his 42-year rule. These include the Lockerbie bombing and the shooting dead of British police officer Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984.

In leaked US diplomatic cables, he was described as a trusted “senior regime figure”, “who had played a role as minder of the more troublesome Gadafy offspring”.

Mr Senussi, who fled Tripoli as it fell to the rebels in August last year, travelled across Libya as a fugitive before crossing into Niger last October.

From there, he reportedly spent time in Mali, Mauritania and Morocco before ending up in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, where he was detained on arrival.

His case will again raise questions over Libya’s respect for international law and its strained relations with the ICC, which also wants to try Mr Gadafy’s son Saif al-Islam, who has been held without charge for almost a year in the Libyan town of Zintan.

Human rights organisations have queried whether former regime figures like Mr Senussi will receive a fair trial in Libya as the country struggles to establish a strong central government and rule of law.

Libya’s prime minister Abdurrahim el-Keib sought to assuage those concerns yesterday after Mr Senussi arrived in Tripoli.

“Abdullah al-Senussi will have a fair trial according to international standards for human rights, the rights . . . [of] which Libyans were deprived,” Mr Keib told reporters.