Libya abruptly halted the extradition to the United States of Abdullah al-Senussi, Muammar Gaddafi’s most trusted aide, this week for fear of public anger following an earlier handover of a former senior Libyan intelligence operative, the Guardian revealed on Friday.
Senussi, Libya’s former intelligence chief and Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, is accused of several attacks against western aircraft, among other targets, and is currently being held in a prison in the Libyan capital.
The US suspects the 72-year-old of being the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. The attack brought down the plane over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people, 190 of whom were American citizens.
Abu Agila Mohammed Masud, another suspect in the bombing, was transferred to US custody earlier this month, after being taken from his home in Tripoli on 17 November. He was detained for two weeks by a Libyan militia, and then handed over to the US in the port city of Misrata.
Masud’s family said that the arrest was an unlawful abduction, to which the US embassy in Libya responded that the procedure was “lawful and conducted in cooperation with Libyan authorities”.
His handover triggered outrage among the public and forced Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh’s government to halt its plans to transfer Senussi to the US at the last minute.
“The idea was to have Masud sent to the US first and then give them Senussi. There have been discussions for months about this. But then officials got worried,” one Libyan official source with knowledge of the case told the Guardian.
Senussi was sentenced to death in 2015 in a mass trial. He is currently being held in Rawawa prison in Tripoli.
Long list of accusations
Nicknamed “the butcher” for his brutality, Senussi was Gaddafi’s closest adviser and appeared as number two on an opposition list of war criminals.
The handovers were initiated under former US President Donald Trump and talks have continued between the Biden administration and the Libyan government over the past few months, the Guardian reported.
The governments reached an agreement to transfer the two in August this year.
Senussi ran Gaddafi’s internal security services in the 1980s and was the mastermind behind several targeted killings abroad and in Libya. He was also responsible for the 1996 massacre of over 1,000 inmates at the Abu Salim prison in Tripoli. A court in France charged him in 1999 for his involvement in the 1989 bombing of a passenger plane that killed 170 people while flying over Niger.
As head of Libya’s external security services, Senussi is accused of managing Abdel-Baset al-Megrahi, the man who orchestrated the Lockerbie bombing.
Senussi is also thought to be behind a 2003 assassination plot to kill then-Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him in 2011 for the violent crackdown against protesters in Benghazi at the start of the Libyan uprising.
It remains unclear whether Senussi’s handover is postponed or halted indefinitely.