Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court said Wednesday they will open a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity in Libya.
The announcement is an unprecedentedly swift reaction to the violent crackdown on anti-government protests by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his supporters. Prosecutors often take months and sometimes years to decide whether to open an investigation into possible war crimes.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is launching the investigation after a "preliminary examination of available information," his office said in a statement. It did not elaborate on what information he has access to.
On Monday, Moreno-Ocampo appealed for video and photos of the violence in Libya to help his investigation and said his office was in touch with Libyan army officers.
The United Nations Security Council on Saturday ordered the court to look into possible crimes in Libya. Moreno-Ocampo only began a preliminary probe Monday.
At a press conference Thursday, Moreno-Ocampo will give "an overview of the alleged crimes committed in Libya since Feb. 15, 2011" and identify "the entities and persons who could be prosecuted and put them on notice to avoid future crimes," his office said.
Moreno-Ocampo has said that information available so far suggests Gadhafi loyalist are attacking civilians, possibly constituting crimes against humanity.
Wednesday's statement said prosecutors also are talking with the United Nations, the African Union, the Arab League and other countries. Moreno-Ocampo also will seek information from other sources, including Interpol during his investigation.
It is not clear how fast the court can finish its investigation. Moreno-Ocampo has said he wanted it to be swift.
Once his probe is completed, the Argentinian prosecutor has to send evidence and allegations to the court's judges who will decide whether to issue arrest warrants.
The court, the world's first permanent international criminal tribunal, has no police force and relies on national authorities to arrest suspects.
That has often proven difficult. Last year, he indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for allegedly masterminding genocide in Darfur, but Sudan does not recognize the court's jurisdiction and has refused to hand over the president. Several of Sudan's allies also have allowed Al-Bashir to visit since his indictment, despite international arrest warrants.
Calling on the Hague-based court to investigate in Libya, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over the weekend cited reports that perhaps 1,000 have died amid the popular uprising and the government's violent crackdown on Gadhafi critics.
In the Libyan capital, Tripoli, Gadhafi vowed Wednesday, "We will fight until the last man and woman" and he warned that thousands of Libyans will die if U.S. and NATO forces intervene in the conflict.
His speech came as his forces launched a counteroffensive against the rebel-held eastern part of the country.