(Updates with opposition comments starting in seventh paragraph.)
June 27 (Bloomberg) -- The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi and military intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi on suspicion of murder and persecution.
The three men are wanted for killing, injuring, arresting and imprisoning hundreds of civilians during protests against Qaddafi’s regime that began in February, pretrial Judge Sanji Monageng said at the court in The Hague. Their arrests will ensure the men appear before the court and prevent them from committing further crimes and obstructing the probe, she said.
Following revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, “a state policy was designed at the highest level of the Libyan state machinery, aimed at deterring and quelling by any means, including by the use of lethal force, the demonstrations by civilians against the regime,” Monageng said today.
The U.S. and its European allies say Qaddafi’s four-decade grip on the country that holds Africa’s biggest oil reserves is nearing its end as economic pressure and NATO-led strikes on troops and communication centers erode his capacity to resist the spreading insurgency.
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that Muammar Qaddafi and Saif al-Islam Qaddafi are both criminally responsible as indirect co-perpetrators” for murder and persecution by security forces in Benghazi, Misrata, Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya, Monageng said.
Celebrations erupted in the streets of the besieged Libyan rebel-held city of Misrata after the news of the arrest warrants spread. Several thousand people, many bearing the Libyan rebel tricolor, poured into the central Liberation Square while cars hooted their horns in a long procession around the square and fighters fired volleys of machine gun fire into the air.
“Today Gaddafi is wanted as a war criminal so everybody is proud,” said Farouk Bin Hameda, a bearded English translator, standing amid the crowd. The city, which has been under siege for more than four months, continues to be struck by missiles each night fired by pro-Gaddafi forces.
Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had requested the arrest warrants. Although Libya isn’t a party to the court, the prosecutor was authorized by the United Nations Security Council, which called for an immediate end to violence, to carry out the investigation in a resolution adopted unanimously.
“To prevent them covering up ongoing crimes and committing new crimes, they should be arrested,” the prosecutor said in an e-mailed statement today. “This is the only way to protect civilians in Libya.”
Most African countries don’t recognize the court and aren’t obliged to arrest Qaddafi. Even some states party to the court have refused to execute its arrest warrants, allowing for instance Umar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president indicted in 2009 for alleged war crimes in Darfur, to travel across the region.
“Maybe the National Transitional Council will form a team to arrest him,” Mohammed el-Alaqee, the Libyan rebels’ justice minister, told Al-Arabiya. “At least this decision will drive away many of those surrounding him and so help protect civilians.”
--With assistance from Chris Stephen in Misrata and Mariam Fam in Cairo. Editors: Jennifer M. Freedman, Leon Mangasarian, Ben Holland, Digby Lidstone.
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