Libya presses claim for Senussi extradition

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 20, 2012 1:30 PM
Libya presses claim for Senussi extradition

By Laurent Prieur and Hadeel al Shachi

NOUAKCHOTT/TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya urged Mauritania's president on Tuesday to hand over Muammar Gaddafi's intelligence chief Abdallah al-Senussi to face justice at home, winning what it called a pledge of a "good" outcome in the case.

Senussi, Gaddafi's right-hand man before the Libyan dictator's overthrow and death in a popular revolt last year, was arrested at Mauritania's Nouakchott airport after he arrived late on Friday on a flight from Morocco.

A senior Libyan delegation to Mauritania feted President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz for his "brave stance" in arresting Senussi and during talks at his presidency reaffirmed Tripoli's wish for Senussi to be extradited to Libya.

"We greatly appreciate the position of the president who promised us that good will come of this matter," said a statement attributed to Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagour and issued by Mauritania's official news agency AMI.

Despite its upbeat tone, the statement in Arabic did not say any explicit commitment had been made to hand over Senussi. Mauritanian officials were not immediately available to comment.

France and the International Criminal Court also want Senussi. The ICC has indicted him for crimes against humanity, while he is also alleged to have had a role in the 1989 bombing of an airliner in which 54 French nationals died.

"We want Senussi to be extradited to France. We feel we owe it to the victims' families and to justice," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said of a step that would allow France to confirm the life sentence already handed down to Senussi in absentia by a French court.

Separately, diplomatic sources said the United States - which on Monday confirmed it had had contacts with Mauritania over Senussi - had requested access to him before any transfer.

"The Americans put in a request to Mauritanian authorities yesterday (Monday) morning to be able to meet Senussi while he is still in Mauritania, said one diplomatic source. A second diplomat also confirmed the request had been made.

No comment was immediately available either from the Mauritanian or U.S. governments.

Senussi's name has been linked to the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland of a Pan Am jet that killed 270 people. A State Department spokeswoman said on Monday the United States had long expressed an interest in talking to him about it.

FAIR TRIAL

Human rights groups doubt Senussi, 62, will have a fair trial in Libya and have called for his transfer to the Hague-based ICC.

Amnesty International described the Libyan judicial system as "paralyzed", noting it had not successfully investigated the death of prisoners in rebel detention or high-profile cases like the death of former military chief Abdel-Fattah Younis.

"The Libyan judiciary has done nothing. It has held no one accountable and has not investigated a single case yet," Amnesty's Donatella Rovera told Reuters.

However Deputy Justice Minister Khalifa Faraj Ashour told Reuters in Tripoli the former intelligence chief would be tried fairly in his home country.

"Security is good, the courts are working fine in almost all of the country," he said. "Even if there is a security breach once in a while, we can deal with it."

Ashour said it was too early to discuss what charges Senussi could face in Libya. Interpol has issued a Red Notice for him at Libya's request for fraud offences including embezzling public funds and misuse of power for personal benefit.

"In general, we can say one of the crimes is financial corruption. He knows a lot about hidden money," Ashour said.

Senussi is also 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.

"Senussi being handed over to Libya and tried here would be a great support for the Libyan revolution and the country's courts," Ashour said. "You have to realize that he committed many other crimes in Libya before the revolution."

According to Mauritanian security sources, Senussi, who for decades was hated and feared by many ordinary Libyans, is being held in the main police training school in Nouakchott.

The sources said the location - which is surrounded by a high wall blocking all view from outside - was the only one which could keep Senussi in sufficient security while affording him a degree of comfort.

According to two sources, a team of military doctors including Aziz's personal medic performed a medical check on Senussi on Sunday while he was still being held at a residence in the grounds of Nouakchott's international conference centre.

(Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Tripoli; writing by Mark John; editing by Andrew Roche)