Gadafy's former spy chief arrested


Mauritania arrested Col Muammar Gadafy ex-spy chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, as he arrived on an overnight flight, officials said on Saturday, immediately triggering a three-way race for his extradition.

Mr Senussi, who for decades before the late dictator's fall inspired fear and hatred in ordinary Libyans, is sought by the Hague-based International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity during last year's conflict.

But Libya's new rulers insisted he would have a fair trial there. President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said France helped in the arrest and also wanted him extradited to face justice there, citing his alleged role in the 1989 bombing of an airliner over Niger in which 54 French nationals died.

"Today we confirm the news of the arrest of Abdullah al-Senussi," Libyan government spokesman Nasser al-Manee told a news conference in Tripoli.

"He was arrested this morning 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 earlier that Mr Senussi had been arrested with a false Malian passport arriving from Casablanca, Morocco.

France, which led western backing for the popular uprising that toppled Col Gadafy, said it had co-operated with Mauritanian authorities over the arrest and that it would send an arrest warrant to Mauritania "in the next few hours".

A statement from Mr Sarkozy's office noted that Mr Senussi had been sentenced in absentia for the 1989 bombing of a UTA airliner, in which a total 170 people were killed.

Families of the victims immediately demanded he face justice in France. 

"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.

However Mauritania is not a signatory to the Rome Statute governing the ICC and Libya's government spokesman Mr al-Manee also confirmed it had sought the extradition of Mr Senussi, the last key figure of Gadafy's regime still at large. 

"The Libyan foreign ministry is in touch with Mauritania about the procedure. The Libyan government is ready to receive Abdullah al-Senussi ... and give him a fair trial in Libya," he said.

The Mauritanian government made no comment on the arrest beyond the report of its official news agency.

Mr Senussi is suspected of a key role in the killing of more than 1,200 inmates at Tripoli's Abu Salim prison in 1996. It was the arrest of a lawyer for victims' relatives that sparked Libya's Arab Spring revolt in February last year.

The ICC has charged Mr Senussi and Mr Gadafy’s son Saif al-Islam as being "indirect co-perpetrators" of murder and persecution.