WHAT WILL BECOME OF ABDALLAH SENUSSI?
On November 20 2011 Libyan authorities had announced the capture of Gaddafi's brother-in-law, Abdallah Senussi. The declaration had been informally confirmed by other sources, but had never been supported - as other seizures of important members of the former regime - by photos or videos of those arrested. Such circumstances had fueled various conjectures in Tripoli. Among them was that Senussi had been brutally tortured thus making his parading in front of the press not recommendable. This happened as the new authorities in Libya dealt with increasing accusations of human rights violations. Other sources - always in Tripoli - even suggested Abdallah Senussi could have been killed. Both hypothesis could have been true given that both Gaddafi, before being assassinated, had been sodomized and his son Mutassim had incurred in the mutilation of his genitals.
In truth, Senussi was neither imprisoned in Libya, nor dead. He had fled joining with the Tuareg tribes in Mali and continued his fight against the new leaders in town. On March 17 2012 he was captured by Mauritanian security forces at the Nouakchott airport. Libyan authorities have demanded his extradition home. Abdallah Senussi was one of the most hated leaders of Ghaddafi's regime. He was charged with dealing with the dirties affairs: chasing down and physical elimination of the opposition in Libya and abroad, persecution of their families, suppression of protests and all sorts of attacks.
For these reasons, on May 16 2011, the International Criminal Court in the Hague had issued - on request of Libya CNT who had filed a report - an international arrest warrant for crimes against humanity. The warrant extended from Senussi to Gaddafi and his son Seif al Islam.
Senussi the terrorist
Abdallah Senussi had already gained international fame for his role in the bombing of the French UTA DC10 airplane over Niger's skies in 1989. The attack had costed the lives of 170 people, of whom 54 French. A tribunal in Paris had condemned Senussi in absentia to life in jail. The court had also issued an international arrest warrant in 1999.
At that time the Libyan official was had the head of the military intelligence. Gaddafi was forced - at least officially - to fire him. But his true power remained intact. In 1996, during an uprising in the maximum security prison of Abu Salim, Senussi had sent in the special forces to quell the prisoners. 1200 people were killed and buried in mass graves just recently unearthed. The irony is that the protests that lead to the overthrow of Gaddafi's regime were sparked by the families of the victims of Abu Salim demanding for the return of the relatives' bodies. It all began when in Benghazi the lawyer representing the families was arrested.
In 2002 Abdallah Senussi returned at the head of the military intelligence and the following year was accused by the Saudis of plotting to kill King Abdallah. In 2007, as part of Gaddafi's rapprochement policy with the West, Senussi was once again sidelined. He was named vice-director of the External Security Service (“Jihaz al Aman al Kharigi”), then lead by Musa Kusa. But whatever the formal nominations were, Abdallah Senussi was a key figure in Gaddafi's apparatus and would soon return at the head of the military intelligence.
Senussi and the Lockerbie bombing
Senussi played a key role in the negotiations with the United Kingdom to free the terrorist involved in the Lockerbie bombings, Abdelbaset Mohamed Ali al Megrahi, released in August 2009. He negotiated with Italy the deals to curb illegal migration and was hence received in Rome. This is Abdallah Senussi's last political role. Once Libya had restored a certain degree of international "credibility" he was immediately re-installed as a leading public official. In 2009 he was nominated Head of the High Committee for the fight against illegal migration. This was a covert nomination for greater responsibilities: the control of Libya's entire security apparatus. Using migrants as an excuse, Senussi controlled Tripoli's three security services (External Security Service, Internal Security Service and the Military Intelligence), the Army and the Police. But this would be the last chapter in the story of Abdallah Senussi.
Abdelbaset Mohamed Ali al Megrahi
As the uprising in Benghazi began, Senussi tried - without much success - to quell the revolt. Even though his men are accredited for their brutal methods, Abdallah Senussi will fail. He will stand by his brother-in-law Gaddafi until the end. After all, he could not leave the country due to the international arrest warrant. In August 2011 his son Mohamed - known in Italy for his alcohol abuse and the consequences thereof on which Italian authorities turned a blind eye - was killed in a NATO raid together with Gaddafi's son Khamis. In November 2011 the rumors had it that he had been captured in Libya's south.
A key figure in safeguarding the regime's security and a troubling - at least on the international scene - political ally, Senussi was renown for his brutal, cruel and vengeful methods. He is now acting the last act of his life. If Senussi is handed over to Libya authorities, his chances of survival are basically zero. He will hardly make it through detention and through a trial whose outcome is already written. In tribal and beduin culture, whom Abdallah Senussi is a true representative, there is no room for acts of pardon and the respect of human rights is a rarely applied option. In his particular case - given the ruthless acts Senussi has been responsible of - there is no margin he will be treated humanely. As a matter of fact, Libyan authorities have already announced, as they have regarding Seif al Islam, that in case he be extradited he will not be handed over to an international tribunal.
What remains to be seen is what Mauritanian authorities will decide. Their first step has been to deny an agreement on the extradition with the CNT following a visit in Nouakchott by Libya's new deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abu Shagour. At the same time, Tripoli has issued through Interpol an international arrest warrant in their own. The move is seen as an attempt to overcome the one issued by the Hague court.
Authorities in Mauritania are well aware that an extradition will equal to a certain death sentence for Senussi. Instead, his handing over to the International Criminal Court will have consequences not as cruel. We should underline that Mauritania is non-signatory of the Rome Treaty recognizing the statute and role of the ICC. It this hence not clear how Mauritanians will behave in determining Senussi's fate and in responding to Libya's requests. To this respect we should evaluate a series of issues.
Not all is lost for Senussi
First of all, when arrested Senussi was on a return flight from Morocco. This means he had been granted a certain degree of freedom of movement. His face and his reputation have been well known for the last 40 years. There is no way Abdallah Senussi was moving without being identified or monitored. If he could freely enter and exit Morocco, then he must still benefit from a certain level of credibility or political weight. Regardless of Gaddafi's death, Senussi is still in high regard in North Africa. A further confirmation comes from the fact that despite his arrest, he is not detained in a prison in Nouakchott, but is instead hosted in a residence for authorities.
Secondly, we should make some political evaluations. Senussi's reputation is inversely proportional to the credit granted to the new Libyan leadership. Several countries in the region don't look with favor the current instability in Tripoli and the role played by the islamic leadership. Mauritania fears terrorism and is afraid of fundamentalists. From this point of view, Senussi would not create any problems. Gaddafi's brother-in-law has another plus to his score: he has strong links with the Tuareg tribes who fought alongside his regime in Libya and who are now profiting from the coup d'etat in Bamako and destabilizing the wider Sahel region. There are the same people who are making independentist claims and are allied to salafite islamist groups, some of whom are linked to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.
The timing for any action that would upset the Tuareg is not ideal. Handing over Senussi to Libya could have negative effects for Mauritanian president Ould Abdel Aziz. Afterall, it was Gaddafi who had lobbied for Aziz's admission to the African Union after the coup that had brought him to power in August 2008. Ould Abdel Aziz could feel he owes a debt of gratitude to the fallen Libyan regime.
On the other hand, Mauritania is under strong pressure from France. Paris has not forgotten about the UTA bombing and was on the forefront of the NATO countries that helped overthrow Gaddafi. And behind France is West and several economic and commercial deals whose outcome could influence Nouakchott's choice. Furthermore, some of these same countries are currently helping Mauritania fight terrorism in the region. President Aziz's decision will come after having weighed out his options.