Sunday, November 20, 2011
Security Chief Abdullah al-Senussi Captured?
BK Notes: A more recent report indicates that this security chief may not have been captured after all. We shall see.
By Alastair Macdonald and Ali Shuaib
TRIPOLI | Sun Nov 20, 2011 4:19pm EST
(Reuters) - Abdullah al-Senussi, Libya's feared former intelligence chief, was cornered and captured at a remote desert homestead on Sunday, a day after Muammar Gaddafi's son was seized by Libyan fighters in the same region.
The arrest of the last survivor of the old regime who is wanted at The Hague for crimes against humanity crowned a momentous couple of days for a new government that is still in the process of formation, and also posed immediate tests of its authority -- both over powerful militias and with world powers.
In a sign of the strain that the prime minister-designate is under to reconcile the interests of rival militia groups that control the ground in Libya, officials said Abdurrahim El-Keib had asked for another couple of days to complete a cabinet that he had previously hoped to announce on Sunday.
A commander of former rebel forces nominally loyal to the National Transitional Council (NTC), General Ahmed al-Hamdouni, told Reuters that his men, acting on a tip, had found and surrounded Senussi at a house belonging to his sister near the town of Birak, about 500 km (300 miles) south of Tripoli and in the same region as Saif al-Islam was seized on Saturday.
NTC spokesman Abdul Hafez Ghoga later confirmed that Senussi, who is Saif al-Islam's uncle by marriage, had been captured. It was not immediately clear if the arrests were linked, though there has been speculation since the fall of Tripoli three months ago that the pair were hiding together.
Fighters who intercepted Saif al-Islam on a desert road in the early hours of Saturday said they believed one of his companions was also a nephew of Senussi, whose wife is a sister of Muammar Gaddafi's second wife Safiya.
Like Muammar Gaddafi, who was captured and killed on the coast a month ago on Sunday, Saif al-Islam and Senussi were indicted this year by the International Criminal Court for alleged plans to kill protesters after the Arab Spring revolt erupted in February.
But NTC officials have said they can convince the ICC to let them try both men in Libya.
Ghoga said NTC members meeting on Sunday had confirmed that preference, as did the current justice minister - although legal experts point out that international law demands Tripoli make a strong case for the right to try anyone who has already been indicted by the ICC.
MANY LIBYANS WANT HANGMAN'S NOOSE
Given the state of Libya's legal system after 42 years of dictatorship, as well as the depth of feelings after this year's civil war, the ICC seems unlikely to agree, many jurists think. Its chief prosecutor is expected in Libya this week.
While the ICC, backed by a U.N. resolution, can demand Libya hand over the prisoners, many Libyans are keen to see them tried for alleged crimes committed over decades, well beyond the scope of the ICC charges relating to this year only. And many also want them hanged, something barred at The Hague.
Among other old wounds, 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. And many of the dead were members of Islamist groups which are expected to be a major political force in a democratic Libya.
The case of Senussi, long the elder Gaddafi's right-hand man and enforcer, may also revive interest in international incidents long shrouded in mystery, from the days in the 1980s and 90s when Gaddafi's Libya waged undercover war on the West.
Senussi's name has been linked with the Lockerbie bombing of 1988. He was among six Libyans convicted in absentia in Paris of bringing down a French UTA airliner a year later.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi spent Sunday at a secret location in the militia stronghold of Zintan while in Tripoli the Libyan rebel leaders who overthrew his father tried to resolve their differences and form a government that can try the new captive.
With rival local militia commanders from across the country trying to parlay their guns into cabinet seats, officials in the capital gave mixed signals on how long Keib, may need.
Ghoga said the NTC had given Keib another two days, right up to a deadline of Tuesday, to agree his cabinet -- a delay that indicated the extent of horse-trading going on.
And though the Zintan mountain fighters who intercepted the 39-year-old heir to the four-decade Gaddafi dynasty deep in the Sahara said they would hand him over once some central authority was clear, few expect Saif al-Islam in Tripoli soon.
Members of the NTC, the self-appointed legislative panel of notables formed after February's uprising, expect to vote on Keib's nominees, with keenest attention among the men who control the militias focused on the Defense Ministry.
One official working for the NTC said that the group from Zintan, a town of just 50,000 in the Western Mountains outside Tripoli that was a stronghold of resistance to Gaddafi, might even secure that ministry thanks to holding Saif al-Islam.
Other groups include rival Islamist and secularist militias in the capital, those from Benghazi, Libya's second city and the original seat of revolt, and the fighters from the third city of Misrata, who took credit for capturing and killing the elder Gaddafi and haggled with the NTC over the fate of his rotting corpse for several days in October.
"The final act of the Libyan drama," as a spokesman for the former rebels put it, began in the blackness of the Sahara night, when a small unit of fighters from the town of Zintan, acting on a tip-off, intercepted Saif al-Islam and four armed companions driving in a pair of 4x4 vehicles on a desert track.
It ended, after a 300-mile flight north on a cargo plane, with the London-educated younger Gaddafi, who had tried to pass himself off as "Abdelsalam, a camel herder," being held in a safe house in Zintan and the townsfolk vowing to keep him healthy until he can face a judge in the capital.
His captors said he was "very scared" when they first recognised him, despite the heavy beard and enveloping Tuareg robes and turban he wore. But they reassured him and, by the time a Reuters correspondent spoke to him aboard the plane, he had been chatting amiably to his guards.
"He looked tired. He had been lost in the desert for many days," said Abdul al-Salaam al-Wahissi, a Zintan fighter involved in the operation. "I think he lost his guide."
Sitting on the tarmac at Zintan, under siege from a mob who seemed ready to inflict on him the indignities that met his father, revealed his fears, but also some bravado and not a little humour. When others in the besieged aircraft lit up cigarettes, he complained: "We're going to choke to death."
In video posted on YouTube, he was later seen chatting in a room with others, apparently at ease in Zintan -- images that may surprise other Libyans who bear deep grudges against him.
"There is no problem," he said at one point, after cursing the "infidel Crusader pact" of NATO whose air strike a month ago had killed 26 of his men and left him with a wounded hand.
How long Libya will hold on to him and Senussi, who officials said was being held overnight in the desert, was unclear. Despite official insistence, some analysts said Libya would face international pressure if it tried them itself.
Western leaders, who backed February's uprising against Gaddafi but looked on squeamishly as rebel fighters filmed themselves taking vengeance on the fallen strongman a month ago, urged Keib to seek foreign help to ensure a fair trial.
Keib, who taught engineering at U.S. universities before returning to Libya to join the rebellion, drove on Saturday the two hours from Tripoli to Zintan to pay homage to its fighters. He promised justice would be done - within Libya.
(Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian, Hisham El-Dani and Francois Murphy in Tripoli and Oliver Holmes and Taha Zargoun in Zintan; Writing by Alastair Macdonald)
Gaddafi's intelligence chief captured in southern desert
Abdullah al-Senussi caught two days after Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's arrest by militia fighters
Chris Stephen in Zintan and Luke Harding
Quardian.co.uk Sunday 20 November 2011 15:11 EST
Libya's interim authorities have captured the last totem of the Gaddafi regime, seizing former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi in the southern desert near to where Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was apprehended two days earlier.
Militia units surrounded a house where Senussi was holed up, near the town of Birak. The arrest means that all leading figures from the Gaddafi regime have now either been killed, captured or driven into exile. Senussi was the henchman of the Gaddafi regime, "the executioner", according to Luis Moreno Ocampo, prosecutor at the international criminal court.
Both Senussi and Saif al-Islam have been indicted by the ICC on war crimes charges for their role in the bloody suppression of anti-government protests this year. But after they trumpeted his capture, Libyan officials said Saif al-Islam would not be handed over to the Hague court, but tried at home. The charges against him could carry a death penalty.
The National Transition Council's spokesman, Mahmoud Shamman, said Libya's interim government would inform the ICC of its decision next week.
Ocampo, is expected to visit Tripoli on Monday. He will urge Libya's rulers that any trial of Saif al-Islam should be carried out in full accordance with international norms.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Shamman said it was wholly appropriate that Gaddafi's son and one-time heir receives justice within his country since it was here he "committed crimes against the Libyan people".
But it remains unclear whether Saif al-Islam's captors based in the western mountains would agree to hand over Gaddafi's favourite son to the authorities in Tripoli. Libya's prime minister, Abdurrahim al-Keib, is about to announce a new cabinet.
Saif al-Islam is the ultimate bargaining chip for Zintan, keen to secure maximum influence in the new government above other regional claimants.
"We can try him, it will not take too long, we don't need any new laws," said Omran Eturki, leader of Zintan council, referring to questions over Libya's current legal limbo. "They are Zintanis who captured him so they will have to have him here.
"The judicial authorities can appoint the judges and the lawyers, but the trial must be here. As long as there is justice, that is it."
He said Saif al-Islam would get a fair trial. "There is no point to make a revolution for justice, and then you become the same killers. All the people of Zintan want to see him have a proper trial. We don't like to harm him. If we wanted to kill him we could kill him. We captured him so I think we have the right to try him."
Saif al-Islam was apprehended in the desert near Obari, a small town that straddles roads leading to Algeria and Niger.
The man who led the fighters that captured him said the late dictator's son tried to escape arrest by pretending to be a camel herder.
"When we caught him, he said, 'My name is Abdul Salem, a camel keeper,'" said commander Ahmed Amur on Sunday. "It was crazy."
"We knew it was a VIP target, we did not know who," said Amur. After stopping the two cars containing Saif al-Islam and four others, Amur said Saif al-Islam threw himself face down and began rubbing dirt on his face. "He wanted to disguise himself. His face was covered [with dirt], I knew who he was," said Amur. "Then he said to us, 'Shoot.' When the rebels refused to shoot, and identified themselves, Saif al-Islam told them: 'OK, shoot me, or take me to Zintan.'
"We don't kill or harm a captured man, we are Islam," said Amur, still clad in the green combat jacket he wore when making the arrest. "We have taken him here to Zintan. After that, our government is responsible."
A Ukrainian doctor who treated Saif al-Islam said he would need to have several fingers amputated to prevent infection spreading. Dr Andrew Morokovsky, from Krivoi Rog, has been working in Zintan hospital for eight years and stayed to tend wounded fighters when war broke out in Libya in February.
"It's an old wound, the wound was septic. He [Saif al-Islam] told me it was from Nato bombing. The fingers have rupture, I don't know, maybe bombing, yes."
He said he would perform an operation to cut the fingers lower down the bone. "There has to be reamputation, and close the skin," he said.
Morokovsky said Saif al-Islam seemed calm when they met, and was thin but otherwise healthy. "He was very nice, he's not scared." The doctor said the fighters had asked him to perform the operation in Zintan, but that it was not clear if they wanted it done in the house where he is captive or the town's single hospital. Morokovsky said he preferred the hospital. "It is better for me and for him to do it here [the hospital]. It has more facilities."
Senussi built up a reputation as the enforcer of Gaddafi's will when he was the chief of security during a deadly purge of regime opponents in the early 1980s. Many Libyans also hold Senussi responsible for the 1996 killing of around 1,200 inmates at Abu Salim prison in Tripoli.