By Duncan Gardham
The notorious head of Libyan intelligence at the time of the Lockerbie bombing and the shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher could at last face questioning by British police after he was extradited back to Libya.
Abdullah al-Senussi became a hate-figure in his home country as head of an intelligence machinery responsible for the mistreatment of thousands of opponents of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, his brother-in-law.
He was also allegedly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people abroad as the man behind the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 and the bombing of a French aircraft over Niger the following year.
Nicknamed the “butcher” and known as Gaddafi’s “black box” because of the secrets he supposedly holds, the new Libyan regime has been negotiating for months with Mauritania where he fled following the fall of the Gaddafi regime last September.
Scottish prosecutors are now expected to ask for permission to question him over their continuing inquiry into the bombing of PanAm Flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie in December 1988 which killed 270 people.
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, was extradited by Libya and convicted of the bombing in 2001 but released from jail eight years later on compassionate grounds because he was dying from cancer. He died in May this year.
The Gaddafi regime accepted responsibility for the attack in May 2002 and offered to pay $2.7 billion in compensation to relatives of the victims but never revealed who else was involved.
Earlier this year, Abdurrahim El-Keib, Libya’s transitional Prime Minister, said he was convinced that Senussi could also name the person who shot Pc Yvonne Fletcher during a siege outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984.
France would like to see Senussi face justice following the conviction, in his absence, for his role in the bombing of a French passenger plane flying over Niger that resulted in the deaths of 170 people in 1989.Senussi, 62, is also wanted by the International Criminal Court, and is accused in Libya of responsibility for some of the worst atrocities during Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.
A Foreign Office spokesman said there were a number of open police investigations in relation to the activities of the Gaddafi regime and added: “The police will follow the evidence wherever it leads and we will continue to provide them with what support we can.
“The Libyans are in no doubt of the importance the UK attaches to seeing progress made on these investigations. During the Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Libya, Prime Minister el-Keib assured him of Libya’s cooperation to bring justice for UK victims of Gaddafi.”
Senussi was arrested after arriving at Nouakchott airport in Mauritania on March 17, after apparently arriving under a false passport on a scheduled flight from Casablanca in Morocco, dressed as a Tuareg tribesman.He spent five-month under house arrest in a private villa where he was allowed to exercise, watch TV, read the international media and receive visits from his nephew.
He was flown back to Libya by private jet on Wednesday after protracted negotiations with Mauritania. A high-level Libyan delegation, including the justice minister and army chief of staff, was in Mauritania on Tuesday where it held meetings with Mauritanian authorities.
A Mauritananian government official told Reuters he was extradited to Libya “on the basis of guarantees given by Libyan authorities.” He said the extradition took place following a decision by the Mauritanian courts which was ratified by Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the Mauritanian President.
By yesterday afternoon, Taha Baara, spokesman for the Libyan prosecutor general, said they had received Senussi and said he would undergo a number of medical tests and then “undergo interrogation for the cases he has been charged with.”
Footage of Senussi, accompanied by the current Libyan chief of staff, Gen Youssef al-Mangoush, showed him leaving a helicopter transferring him from a military air base to prison as bystanders chanted, of “the blood of the martyrs will not go in vain.”
A Libyan official said Senussi was being held with other former regime members, including a former prime minister.
Senussi was indicted in June last year by the ICC for crimes against humanity, along with Col Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam, accused of murder and persecution in his role in attempting to crush the uprising that began in Benghazi.
In its warrant for Senussi’s arrest, the ICC said he had used his position of command to have attacks carried out against opponents of Col Gaddafi, played a “crucial” role in attempting to crush the popular revolt and was an “indirect perpetrator of crimes against humanity, of murder and persecution based on political grounds” in Benghazi.
But he is unlikely to be sent to be sent to the Hague because Libyans would like to see him face justice for the alleged purges of opponents of the Gaddafi regime and for the deaths of 1,200 political prisoners at Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison in 1996.
A spokesman for the ICC said it had received no information about a handover to Libyan authorities in Tripoli.
Saif al-Islam, is to go on trial in Libya this month, a government source said in August.