Three-way battle to put Gaddafi's spy chief on trial


The arrest of Colonel Gaddafi's notorious former spy chief in Mauritania over the weekend has triggered hopes that fresh light may be cast on some of the darkest chapters of Libya's recent history.

General Abdullah al-Senussi, a feared regime henchman known as "the butcher", was arrested in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, on Saturday after arriving on an overnight flight from Morocco.

His capture brings down the curtain on one of the bloodiest careers of any Gaddafi acolyte. Senussi, who is wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of committing crimes against humanity, is accused by France of being behind the 1989 bombing of an airliner over Niger in which 54 French nationals died.

During his decades of service to Gaddafi, he left a long and bloody trail of evidence. It pointed to his complicity in a range of atrocities, including cross-border kidnappings, secret service murders and the widespread torture of dissidents. Saturday's arrest, with the assistance of the French authorities, triggered a three-way battle to determine the spymaster's fate.

Libya's new government issued a statement saying it "insisted" Senussi be returned home to face trial. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for the general last year, while France, which tried him for the Niger bombing in abstentia in 1999, confirmed it would be sending an extradition request to the Mauritanian government.

Senussi, who was said to have helped construct a secret nuclear facility deep in the Sahara desert, was as close to Gaddafi as any confidant could be.

As a member of the loyalist Megarha tribe, the general married Gaddafi's sister-in-law and was reportedly a close adviser to the dictator's son, Saif al-Islam, who was captured in November and is now awaiting trial in Libya on rape and murder charges.

When about 1,200 inmates were massacred at Tripoli's Abu Salim prison in 1996, it was Senussi who reportedly ordered the guards to fire down on the victims' heads through a grated ceiling.