By Ali Shuaib
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Tunisia extradited former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's prime minister to Libya on Sunday, a Libyan security official said, making him the first senior official to be sent back for trial under the country's transitional leadership.
Defense ministry official Mohammed al-Ahwal told Reuters that a helicopter had transferred Al Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi to the capital Tripoli. "Mahmoudi is now in Tripoli and we are holding him in a prison."
A security official at the prison, who declined to be named, told Reuters that Mahmoudi was undergoing medical checks.
Mahmoudi served as the Libyan dictator's prime minister from 2006 until he fled to neighboring Tunisia around the time that rebel fighters took Tripoli in August.
His extradition could establish a precedent for other countries who have given refuge to or arrested members of Gaddafi's old entourage.
Libya's government and the International Criminal Court - which indicted Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam in June for crimes against humanity stemming from the crackdown on last year's revolt - have argued for months over where he should be tried.
Tripoli considers it a matter of national pride and a measure of the country's transformation for Saif al-Islam's and other Gaddafi loyalists trials to be held in Libya. But human rights groups have questioned whether Libya's justice system can meet the standards of international law and say he should be handed over to the ICC instead.
Mabrouk Khorchid, Mahmoudi's lawyer in Tunisia, said neither he nor the former Libyan prime minister's family had been given any prior warning that he was about to be extradited.
"I believe this is a state crime and is against human rights," he said. "This is a sad moment for human rights in Tunisia. I think he's going to be tortured and treated illegally and believe that those who handed him over bear part of the responsibility."
Khorchid said he had not been allowed to see his client for 20 days and had heard that Mahmoudi had been placed in solitary confinement and had suffered a nervous breakdown since Tunisia's justice minister said last month that an extradition was imminent.
"We called the presidency and they said they had not signed the extradition order and we were surprised that he was handed over like this," he said.
A Tunisian court ruled as far back as November that Mahmoudi should be extradited. But Tunisian President Moncef al-Marzouki later said the handover would not happen until the situation in Libya had stabilized and Mahmoudi could be guaranteed a fair trial after Gaddafi himself was killed by rebels and his rotting corpse left on display.
(Additional Reporting By Lin NouWriting by Hadeel Al-Shalchi; Editing by Myra MacDonald)