Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, seen in an image taken from TV this month. (Associated Press )
London — The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants Monday for Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi, his son and his brother-in-law, alleging that they committed crimes against humanity in Kadafi's campaign to hold on to power and crush the rebellion against his iron rule.
Judges at The Hague said there was sufficient evidence that Kadafi and his two relatives ordered the killing and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the first days of the uprising that broke out in February 2011.
Besides Kadafi, the warrants named his son Seif Islam and his brother-in-law Abdullah Sanoussi, Libya's military intelligence chief. The two men are considered to be among Kadafi's closest confidants.
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Officials from NATO countries engaged in the air campaign against Kadafi's forces welcomed the announcement.
"The warrants further demonstrate why Kadafi has lost all legitimacy and why he should go immediately," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "His forces continue to attack Libyans without mercy and this must stop."
But the warrants could make any prospect of a political deal, in which Kadafi relinquishes power, more difficult. An agreement that would allow him to go into exile would run up against the now-official demand for his arrest.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo submitted his request for the warrants last month, citing what he said was overwhelming evidence against the three men. Moreno-Ocampo described Seif Islam as Kadafi's "de factor prime minister" and Sanoussi as his "executioner."
The prosecutor's brief accused Kadafi of ordering his security forces to shoot civilians and destroy their property as punishment for opposing him. It said that the longtime Libyan leader issued the orders verbally in order to avoid a paper trail that could be used against him.
Among the incidents attributed to Kadafi's direction were attacks by his troops on funeral processions around the cities of Benghazi and Misurata in February 2011. Forces loyal to Kadafi also took up strategic positions around mosques in Tripoli, the capital, from where they gunned down up to 100 civilians Feb. 25, the prosecutor's brief alleged.
Even before the warrants were issued, the Kadafi regime dismissed the court's authority.
"The ICC has no legitimacy whatsoever. We will deal with it," Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said Sunday.