TRIPOLI, Libya — Deposed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s notorious spy chief is in custody in Tripoli after extradition from Mauritania, Libya’s premier said Wednesday, in a step toward bringing the man linked to aircraft bombings and atrocities to justice.
A plane carrying Abdullah al-Senoussi landed in the afternoon at Metiga air base at the heart of Tripoli in the afternoon. He was flown by helicopter to the Hill Prison in the capital.
“Abdullah al-Senoussi will be have a fair trial according to international standards for human rights, the rights from which Libyans were deprived,” Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib told reporters in Tripoli.
The former spy chief is accused of complicity in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, as well as the Abu Salim prison massacre of more than 1,200 inmates by Gadhafi’s regime in 1996 and another airplane bombing in 1989.
Mauritania, Libya, the International Criminal Court and France all asked to try the former intelligence chief.
Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, called on Libya to ensure al-Senoussi is treated humanely and that his rights are safeguarded.
“The government should also abide by its international obligations to cooperate with the ICC. Such actions are crucial for Tripoli to demonstrate that Libya is in a new era marked by the rule of law,” Mattioli-Zeltner said in a statement.
However, the London-based Amnesty International said in a statement that “the decision to send him to Libya - with its weak justice system and inadequate fair trial guarantees - will inevitably delay justice for victims and could lead to violations of al-Senussi’s rights to a fair trial.”
El-Keib said that Libyan officials and the ICC are in contact, but insisted that al-Senoussi will be tried in Libya.
Libya and the ICC are embroiled in a similar dispute over where to try Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, known as the former dictator’s political heir apparent. He is being held by a militia in western Libya. The Libyan government said recently it would put him on trial there.
A Libyan official said al-Senoussi is being held together with other former regime members, including an ex-prime minister. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
A picture of al-Senoussi circulating on Libyan activists’ social networking sites was apparently taken as he left the helicopter. It shows a man with a thick beard, appearing thinner than before. Behind him appears the Libyan chief of staff, Gen. Youssef al-Mangous.
Al-Mangous said it would be up to Libya’s attorney general and the courts whether al-Senoussi would be tried in a civilian or military court.
Bystanders chanted, of “the blood of the martyrs will not go in vain,” as a video clip showed him leaving the helicopter and entering a black vehicle.
Al-Senoussi is Gadhafi’s brother-in-law and was known as Gadhafi’s “black box,” a reference to his intimate knowledge of all aspects of Gadhafi’s abuses. Gadhafi was overthrown last summer, then captured and killed by rebels in October.
Al-Senoussi was arrested in March at Mauritania’s international airport, where he showed up disguised as a Tuareg chieftain, wearing flowing robes and a turban and traveling on a fake passport. For months, Mauritania resisted calls to hand him over, insisting that its laws were violated and that he should be tried there.
On Monday, a Libyan delegation including the finance and justice ministers arrived in Mauritania. The government handed al-Senoussi over to the Libyan minister of justice at the Mauritanian airport. A Libyan jet had been sent to fly the ex-spy chief home.
A baggage handler at the airport who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter said that al-Senoussi was not handcuffed when he was brought out. He said he looked healthy and in good spirits as he walked up the ramp to the plane.
However, Hassan Zaqlama, the Libyan finance minister, told Free Libya TV that al-Senoussi resisted getting into the plane but was forced to by security agents.
Al-Senoussi had spent his five-month incarceration in Mauritania in a private villa, the Libyan official said. He was allowed to exercise, watch TV, read the international media and receive visits from his nephew, said the official.
In May, he was indicted by a Mauritanian judge for “illegally entering Mauritania using false identity documents,” after which he was sent to a public jail. It is not clear how he was transferred from jail to a private villa.
Oriane Maillet, a spokeswoman for the international tribunal in The Hague, said the court has received no information from Libyan authorities on the transfer of al-Senoussi, but stressed that an international arrest warrant has been issued for him based on ICC charges.
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who led a delegation to the region, told reporters in Tripoli earlier this year that the U.S. had a “particular interest (in seeing him arrested) because of his role with the Lockerbie bombing.”
The 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people.
France also lobbied for custody of al-Senoussi. He was one of six Libyans convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison in France for the 1989 bombing of a passenger jet over Niger that killed all 170 people on board, including 54 French citizens.