War crimes court seeks arrest of Qaddafi and son Saif over attacks on Libyan civilians

Libyan leader accused of crimes against humanity in brutal suppression of uprising in country he has ruled for more than 40 years.

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THE HAGUE // The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court sought warrants yesterday for the arrest of the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, his son and his brother-in-law for the brutal suppression of the uprising against his rule.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked the ICC's judges to approve arrest warrants for Col Qaddafi, Saif al Islam and the military intelligence chief Abdullah al Sanussi for crimes against humanity.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo said there was "so much strong evidence" against the Libyan leader, who "had total control" and "used the entire Libyan system to commit the crimes".

In a thinly veiled warning to countries such as Syria and Yemen, where anti-government protests have led to bloodshed, he said the move stood as an example to "other leaders who are thinking of using violence to gain or retain power". Without a UN Security Council resolution like the one covering Libya, however, the ICC has no authority to investigate those countries.

The prosecutor said: "The evidence shows that Muammar Qaddafi, personally, ordered attacks on unarmed Libyan civilians. His forces attacked Libyan civilians in their homes and in the public space, shot demonstrators with live ammunition, used heavy weaponry against participants in funeral processions and placed snipers to kill those leaving mosques after prayers."

He described Col Qaddafi's son Saif al Islam as the country's de facto prime minister and said that Mr Senussi was the leader's "right-hand man, the executioner". He also said the crimes were continuing and the investigation may lead to charges of war crimes.

Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khalid Kaim, said earlier in the day that his country would "not show any attention to the decision".

There was some hope internationally that the additional pressure on Col Qaddafi could further undermine his rule. Franco Frattini, the foreign minister of Italy, said before the announcement that "the hours of the Libyan regime are numbered".

Messages from the inner circle of Col Qaddafi's regime suggest that many of his former supporters are looking for a way out for their leader, he said.

Italy is part of the Nato-led coalition that is involved militarily in Libya.

Other European countries used the ICC's move to send a message to Col Qaddafi's remaining followers. "The request for these warrants is a reminder to all in Qaddafi's regime that crimes will not go unpunished and the reach of international justice will be long," said William Hague, the British foreign secretary.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo said it was the duty of the Libyan authorities to implement the arrest warrants when they are issued, and speculated: "I think they will do it."

The request for an arrest warrant against Col Qaddafi comes on the heels of a new truce offer from his camp. In talks with the UN envoy Abdulilah al Khattib, the regime said it would call a ceasefire with rebel forces if Nato first stopped its bombing campaign.

The government has announced ceasefires in the past, but none has materialised. At least one opposition leader rejected the latest offer.

The case against the Libyan leader had gained momentum in recent days, prosecutors said earlier. "During the past week the Office of the Prosecutor received several calls from high-level officials in Qaddafi's regime willing to provide information," the office announced last week.

Investigators visited 11 countries, interviewed more than 50 witnesses and examined 1,200 documents, prosecutors said, but they did not visit Libya itself.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo paid special tribute to the people of the region for their help with the investigations. "Arab people in different parts of the world are playing a key role in exposing the crimes. The fear is not paralysing them," he said.

A panel of pretrial judges may take weeks or months to decide whether to issue the arrest warrants. It may also request more information from the prosecutor before it issues its ruling.

It is only the second time in the international court's nine-year history that the prosecutor has sought the arrest of a ruling head of state. ICC judges issued the first warrant in 2009, against Omar al Bashir of Sudan over violence in Darfur. The court has so far been unable to effect his arrest.