NOUAKCHOTT // Muammar Qaddafi's spy chief will go on trial - but Libya, France and the International Criminal Court in The Hague all want to be the first to put him in the dock.
Abdullah Al Senoussi, feared former right-hand man of the deposed Libyan leader, was arrested on Friday night at Nouakchott airport in Mauritania.
He had travelled on a regular flight from Casablanca in Morocco, using a false passport from Mali.
Al Senoussi is wanted by the ICC for alleged crimes against humanity committed while the Qaddafi regime tried to crush last year's uprising.
He is also the subject of an international arrest warrant issued after a Paris court sentenced him in his absence to life imprisonment for involvement in the bombing of a French airliner over Niger in 1989, in which 170 people died. The French president Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed the arrest and called for Al Senoussi's extradition.
France formally asked Mauritania to extradite him on Saturday, and the ICC did so yesterday. However, a delegation from Libya's ruling National Transitional Council is expected in Mauritania soon to seek Al Senoussi's handover.
"Our courts are very good, even excellent, especially in Tripoli, and we are able to carry out his trial according to international standards," the Libyan justice minister Ali Hmeida Ashur said yesterday. Al Senoussi could also be held accountable in Libya for the Abu Salim prison massacre in 1996, when more than 1,000 prisoners were massacred.
The ICC, the world's main war-crimes tribunal, issued an arrest warrant for the former intelligence chief on June 27 as an "indirect perpetrator of crimes against humanity, of murder and persecution based on political grounds" in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Benghazi was the birthplace of the anti-Qaddafi rebellion and the scene of some of the worst of months of fighting.
Police in Mauritania, which was not a party to the treaty that set up the ICC, said officials there wanted to investigate Al Senoussi with Interpol before considering any extradition requests.
There is no extradition treaty between Libya and Mauritania, but a diplomatic source said the country may rely on a judicial assistance agreement linking members of the Arab League.
Amnesty International said Al Senoussi should be tried by the ICC in the absence of a functioning judiciary in Libya.