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Libya's former intelligence chief arrested

Abdullah Sanoussi was the Kadafi regime's longtime top enforcer. He is captured in the southern desert, where fighters caught Kadafi's son a day earlier. Both will be tried in Libya, officials say.

November 21, 2011|By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times
  • Abdullah Sanoussi, shown in August, was arrested Sunday in southern Libya. He was the Kadafi regime's intelligence chief.
Abdullah Sanoussi, shown in August, was arrested Sunday in southern Libya.… (Dario Lopez-Mills, Associated…)

Reporting from Beirut — A day after arresting the late Moammar Kadafi's son and onetime heir apparent, Libyan officials on Sunday said their fighters had captured another high-level fugitive: Abdullah Sanoussi, the former regime's longtime top enforcer and intelligence chief.

Like Seif Islam Kadafi, who was seized Saturday, Sanoussi is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, including murder, allegedly committed during a bloody crackdown on protesters early this year.

Both were arrested in southern Libya's vast Saharan expanses, officials said. Both had been rumored to have fled via Libya's porous southern borders to neighboring Niger or another African nation. But for reasons that remain unclear, neither had apparently left Libya, where they were marked men.

Libyan officials said Sunday that Kadafi and Sanoussi would be tried in Libya, despite pressure from human rights groups and other governments that they be turned over to the ICC, based in the Dutch city of The Hague.

The decision reflects domestic pressures from war-weary citizens and angry militiamen who have demanded that former regime figures be tried in the nation where their alleged crimes occurred.

"It is a question of national sovereignty," Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, a spokesman for the transitional government, told reporters in Tripoli.

The ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has said he plans to visit Libya this week and discuss the matter.

Libyan authorities have vowed that Kadafi will have a fair trial, though the nation lacks a coherent national government and judiciary after more than 40 years of his father's rule.

Libya's new rulers may seek some kind of ICC collaboration or cooperation in a bid to ease foreign fears that the two prisoners will face show trials, with execution as a predetermined outcome.

The new Libya's commitment to impartial justice has come under fire amid reports of revenge killings and targeting of former Kadafi supporters. Many observers outside Libya were appalled at what they viewed as the apparent summary executions of Moammar Kadafi and his son Mutassim after their capture last month.

Sanoussi, Moammar Kadafi's brother-in-law and longtime confidant, is a widely despised figure who is alleged to have been behind some of the regime's darkest episodes.

Among them was the 1996 massacre of about 1,200 political prisoners at Tripoli's notorious Abu Salim prison. Sanoussi may be able to answer a lingering question: Where are the bodies?

Several survivors of the massacre say Sanoussi visited the prison during an uprising by inmates. He is suspected of ordering the killings as retaliation.

Sanoussi was the alleged mastermind of the 1989 bombing of a French airliner over Niger that left 170 people dead. He was convicted in absentia in France for his role.

International authorities also believe Sanoussi may also be able to shed light on the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that left 270 dead, mostly U.S. citizens. A former Libyan intelligence officer was convicted in the case, but the Kadafi government never acknowledged a role in the attack.

The circumstances of Sanoussi's capture remained somewhat vague late Sunday. The Associated Press reported that he was captured at his sister's home about 40 miles from the southern desert city of Sabha.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

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