Mauritania says it has arrested the late Moammar Gadhafi's former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The fugitive al-Senoussi was arrested at Nouakchott airport while bearing a Malian passport, said Mauritanian's state news agency AMI. He had arrived from Casablanca, Morocco, on a regular flight.
Al-Senoussi disappeared last August when Libya's armed revolt - accompanied by mainly French and British airstrikes conducted under a UN mandate to protect civilians - ended Gadhafi's 42-year rule.
Since June last year, the ICC had sought the spy master - and Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam - for allegedly masterminding attacks on civilians in the uprising's early phase, which began in the city of Benghazi. Moammar Gadhafi himself was killed by rebel fighters in October.
If al-Senoussi is handed over to the Hague-based court, he would be its first suspect formally indicted for alleged atrocities in Libya.
Seeking Libyan suspects - ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo
In Tripoli, a spokesman for Libya's new government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), which wants to try Seif al-Islam on its own, told Reuters on Saturday that it had just received confirmation of al-Senoussi's arrest in Mauritania.
The NTC has stated it wants al-Senoussi extradited to Libya to face justice despite the ICC warrant. "There are demands from the ICC and France to get al-Senoussi, but the priority is to deliver al-Senoussi to Libya," said NTC spokesman Mohammad al-Harizy.
Trail vanished in desert
Last year, when Gadhafi's regime collapsed, his inner circle reportedly fled deep into the Sahara desert, some toward Mali and Niger.
Seif al-Islam was captured in November and has been held in isolation since then by Libya's new government. The NTC also claimed at the time that former rebels had captured al-Senoussi in the Al-Guira region in Libya's south. But, no photographs emerged and that trail seemingly petered out.
The ICC's original warrant documents said al-Senoussi had been "one of the most powerful and efficient organs of repression in Muammar Gadhafi's regime."
Al-Senoussi had previously been sought by France as one of six Libyans convicted in absentia for the 1989 bombing of a French UTA passenger airliner over Niger. All 170 people on board, including 54 French nationals, were killed. In 1999, a Paris court convicted the six and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
ipj/rc (AP, dpa, AFPE, Reuters)