NOUAKCHOTT (Mauritania), March 21 — A Libyan delegation to Mauritania said on Monday the West African country had pledged to hand over Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi when legal procedures were complete.
But the delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagour boarded a plane to leave Mauritania without Senussi after Mauritanian sources played down suggestions the deal was finalised and note that other countries had a say in the case.
“We have an assurance from Mauritania that it will extradite Abdullah al-Senussi but there are legal procedures which must be respected and we will wait,” Libyan government spokesman Nasser al-Manee told reporters before boarding the plane.
Libya is vying with France and the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) to try Gaddafi’s former right-hand man, arrested in Mauritania on Friday as he arrived by plane in the capital Nouakchott with a false passport.
Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagour announced after talks with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz yesterday that Aziz had given consent to extradite Senussi, adding he would “soon be in a Libyan prison.”
But Mauritanian sources insisted the agreement was only “in principle” and that final details had yet to be clinched.
“The principle of Senussi’s extradition to Libya has been agreed,” said a source close to the Mauritanian presidency.
“What remains to be determined are details like the timing,” the source added.
Separately, a Mauritanian security source said the West African state, an aid-reliant former French colony, acknowledged that other countries should have a say in Senussi’s fate.
“It’s not just Mauritania and Libya that can settle this,” said the source, expressing doubt that any transfer of Senussi would take place today.
Held behind a high wall
The source declined to elaborate but several international human rights groups have doubted whether Senussi, 62, would have a fair trial in Libya and say he would be better transferred to the ICC to face charges of crimes against humanity.
Aziz, an army general who seized power in 2008 and went on a year later to win elections decried by rivals as rigged, has enjoyed solid support from Paris that has helped him win international respectability and an IMF funding programme.
France wants Senussi in connection with a 1989 airliner bombing over Niger in which 54 of its nationals died. A second Mauritanian security source told Reuters yesterday France was arguing that its claim had priority over others because it had assisted in last week’s arrest of the ex-spy chief.
Senussi, 62, is understood to be under detention in the main police training school in Nouakchott.
The facility — 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, local security sources said.
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 last year.
Senussi’s name has been linked to the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland of a Pan Am jet that killed 270 people. A diplomatic source said today the United States was keen to question him on the attack. — Reuters