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Libya Presses For Extradition of Former Intelligence Chief

Abdullah Al-Senussi, former head of the Libyan Intelligence Service in Tripoli, (FILE August 21, 2011).
Abdullah Al-Senussi, former head of the Libyan Intelligence Service in Tripoli, (FILE August 21, 2011).
Anne Look

Libya's deputy prime minister is meeting with authorities in Mauritania to urge them hand over Moammar Gadhafi's intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, who has been in custody there since last week.  Libya is likely to face a diplomatic tug of war with France and the International Criminal Court over custody of the fugitive Libyan leader.

Mauritanian authorities arrested Abdullah al-Senussi late Friday as he tried to enter the country on a flight from Morocco using a fake Malian passport.

Arriving Monday in Nouakchott, Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagour says they have come to visit their brothers in Mauritania with whom they share many common interests.  Shagour says they are determined to leave with al-Senussi.  He says al-Senussi has committed crimes against Libya and its people and he must return there to be judged.

Interpol issued an international warrant for al-Senussi on Sunday at Libya's request, for offenses including "embezzling public funds and misuse of power for personal benefit."

Libya is not the only country that wants al-Senussi.

France wants al-Senussi extradited there to serve a life sentence handed down in absentia for his role in the 1989 bombing of a French commercial airliner that killed 170 people.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) wants al-Senussi delivered to the Hague to face trial on two counts of crimes against humanity that were allegedly committed by forces under his control in Benghazi during last year's revolt in Libya.

Mauritania has not yet announced if, or where, it plans to extradite al-Senussi.

Amnesty International says Libya cannot provide a fair trial and Mauritania should hand al-Senussi over to the ICC.  Amnesty's senior crisis response advisor, Donatella Rovera, says Libya's justice system is "all but paralyzed" and crimes against humanity are not covered by Libyan law.

"The courts have not resumed working," she said.  "Investigations into serious abuses committed by the former opposition fighters who are now organized in militia, abuses are rife and the judiciary has not had any role.  It has not investigated.  It has not brought to justice any of those responsible.  So, against that background, there are concerns about what might happen if he [al-Senussi] were to be transferred to Libya."

Mauritania is not a signatory to the ICC.  A U.N. Security Council resolution that urges all states to cooperate with the ICC; however, it is unclear what consequences Mauritania would face if it does not.

Al-Senussi was Gadhafi's right-hand man and is thought to hold some of the best-kept secrets of the Gadhafi regime.  He has been on the run since October when rebels captured and killed the toppled dictator.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States wants al-Senussi brought to justice.

"Abdallah al-Senussi's capture is a crucial step towards justice and accountability and another welcome step away from the dark 40-year history of Libya," she said.  "He's been accused of crimes against humanity and acts of terrorism, and the international community has been very clear that he needs to be held to account."

Nuland said the United States is in contact with the government of Mauritania.  She declined to offer further details but did say that the United States has "always been interested in what he [Senussi] has to say" about the 1988 bombing of a U.S. airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.  The attack killed all 259 people on board and was linked to Libyan intelligence.

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