NOUAKCHOTT/TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A Libyan delegation left Mauritania on Wednesday without Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, but the Libyan government spokesman said his extradition was expected soon.
Libya is vying with France and the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) to try Gaddafi’s former right-hand man, who was arrested on Friday when he flew into the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott using a false passport.
Mauritanian sources played down Libyan suggestions that a deal to extradite Senussi was almost complete, one calling it “wishful thinking”, and said other countries also had a say in the case.
“We have an assurance from Mauritania that it will extradite ... Senussi, but there are legal procedures which must be respected and we will wait,” Libyan government spokesman Nasser al-Manee told reporters before boarding their plane.
“No date has been set for his physical extradition, but it will be soon,” he added.
After arriving in Tripoli, Manee told a news conference Mauritania had “committed to handing him over to us and we deny anything that is otherwise.”
Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagour, leading the delegation, said on Twitter after talks with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on Tuesday that Aziz had given his consent to Senussi’s extradition and he would “soon be in a Libyan prison.”
Mauritanian sources differed.
“No commitment of any kind whatsoever has been given in this case,” an official source told Reuters.
Another source close to the issue said: “At this stage no commitment has been given by the Mauritanian side, it looks like wishful thinking by the Libyans.”
Earlier, a security source in the ex-French colony, which is heavily dependent on foreign aid, said that other countries should also have a say in the fate of Senussi, who had been the last senior Gaddafi regime figure still at large following the dictator’s overthrow and death in an uprising last year.
The source declined to elaborate but several rights groups have said they doubt whether Senussi, 62, would get a fair trial in Libya and that he would be better transferred to the ICC to face charges of crimes against humanity.
The Libyan delegation visited Senussi in detention and Manee said the former intelligence chief was “in good health”.
“He is in a normal situation in a jail, under strong security,” he said. “All his rights as a prisoner are guaranteed.”
Officials have said Senussi was arrested with a young man who Manee said could be one of his relatives.
Senussi is understood to be in detention in the main police training school in Nouakchott. The facility - surrounded by a high wall blocking the view from outside - was the only one that combined adequate security with a degree of comfort for Senussi, according to local security sources.
Aziz, an army general who seized power in 2008 and won elections a year later decried by rivals as rigged, has had solid support from Paris that has helped him win international respectability and an IMF funding program.
France wants Senussi in connection with a 1989 airliner bombing over Niger in which 54 of its nationals died.
A second Mauritanian security source told Reuters on Tuesday France was arguing that its claim had priority because it had helped in last week’s arrest of the ex-spy chief.
Senussi is suspected of playing a central role in the killing of more than 1,200 inmates at Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison in 1996. It was the arrest of a lawyer acting for relatives of the victims that sparked Libya’s Arab Spring revolt in February last year.
Senussi has also been linked to the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland of a Pan Am jet that killed 270 people. A diplomatic source said on Tuesday the United States was keen to question him about that attack.
Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Tripoli, Diadie Ba in Dakar; Writing by Mark John and Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Tim Pearce