Libya ICC team faces 45 days' detention: judiciary

Four International Criminal Court envoys placed in 'preventive' detention in prison after one found carrying documents for Saif Al Islam considered a 'threat to national security'.

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TRIPOLI // Libya has put four International Criminal Court (ICC) envoys in "preventive" detention in prison for 45 days while investigating an alleged threat to national security, a judicial source said yesterday.

The four were transferred Sunday "to a prison on the orders of the prosecutor general," said Ajmi Al Atiri, head of the brigade in Zintan that detained the delegation after it visited Muammar Qaddafi's son Saif Al Islam.

The four-member delegation is being held in the western town after one of its lawyers, Melinda Taylor, was found carrying documents for Saif Al Islam that were considered a "threat to national security."

Ahmed Jehani, Libya's envoy to the ICC, has said that the Australian lawyer was caught "exchanging papers with the accused Saif Al Islam."

Mr Jehani alleged that Ms Taylor was carrying a pen camera and a letter from Mohammed Ismail, Saif's former right-hand man who is now on the run.

He said the letter contained drawings and symbols, a "code" that would be understood only by the sender and the intended recipient, Saif.

Mr Jehani said that Ms Taylor's interpreter Helene Assaf, a Lebanese who has been working with the ICC since 2005, was considered an accomplice.

The ICC has named the other members on the team as Russian Alexander Khodakov and Esteban Peralta Losilla from Spain.

According to Mr Jehani, the two men volunteered to stay behind.

Mr Atiri gave no explanation as to why the men had been transferred from a house, where the team was initially held, to a formal detention facility.

Nasser Al-Manaa, the interim government spokesman, said yesterday that he hoped that the ICC will cooperate with Libyan authorities.

"We expect the ICC to understand Libya's position and cooperate in a neutral investigation," he said, adding that further measures will be determined depending on the findings of the investigation.

The team was in Libya to help Saif choose a defence lawyer, and the court has said that the visit was authorised by Libya's chief prosecutors. The ICC wants to try Saif, 39, for crimes against humanity in The Hague.

But the new regime in Libya wants to put Saif on trial in a local court, while ex-rebels in Zintan who are holding him are refusing to send him to Tripoli for fear that he might escape.

The Hague-based tribunal has called for the immediate release of its staff, noting that its envoys enjoy immunity when on mission.

A new ICC team arrived in Libya on Sunday to negotiate with the authorities.

*Agence France-Presse