NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) — A senior member of Mauritania's government denied Wednesday the country had agreed to hand over Moammar Gadhafi's ex-spy chief for trial in Libya, directly contradicting the claim hours earlier by Libya which said Mauritania had assured them they will hand over Abdullah al-Senoussi.
The official who is close to the negotiations and who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussion told The Associated Press by telephone that "Mauritania has given no assurances whatsoever to Libya regarding handing over al-Senoussi."
He said Libya went ahead with the declaration earlier Wednesday in order to "force Mauritania's hand" and pressure them to hand over al-Senoussi, even though its unclear if he would receive a fair trial in his home country where Gadhafi was killed by the mob that arrested him.
Gadhafi's former intelligence chief is accused of attacking civilians during the uprising in Libya last year, as well as of the 1989 bombing of a French airliner.
Earlier Wednesday, Libyan spokesman Nasser al-Manei told reporters: "The Mauritanian government has given their agreement for the extradition of Abdullah al-Senoussi to Libya so he can be judged by a fair process."
Al-Senoussi showed up at Mauritania's international airport on Saturday, traveling on a fake Malian passport. He was dressed in the garb of a Tuareg chieftain, the nomadic group that inhabits the Sahara desert which cuts across northern Mali as well as southern Libya. Several of Gadhafi's generals as well as one of his sons were given refuge in Mali, after being ferried across the border by Tuaregs, who have historically had a close relationship with Gadhafi.
He was immediately taken into custody by Mauritanian authorities. The courts are now reviewing requests for his extradition from Libya, France, as well as the International Criminal Court which issued a warrant for his arrest.
"We are discussing the matter," said the official. "But there has been no formal engagement taken to extradite him to Mauritania."
The ex-spy chief was considered Gadhafi's "black box" and known to be among his inner circle of confidants. He was also the ousted leader's brother-in-law. He is wanted in Libya for a number of crimes, including his alleged role in the Abu Salim prison massacre of more than 1,200 prisoners by Gadhafi's regime in 1996.
Judges at the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for al-Senoussi last June on two counts of crimes against humanity — murder and persecution — for allegedly masterminding attacks on civilians in the early days of the uprising that eventually toppled Gadhafi. Mauritania is not a member of the court.
The court also indicted Gadhafi but the ousted leader was killed by rebel fighters in October, as well as Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam. Libyans say they want to put both the son and the intelligence chief on trial at home instead of turning them over him to the court.
Libyan officials are currently holding al-Islam, who was arrested in November by fighters in Libya's remote southern desert. The former heir apparent has been held largely without access to the outside world ever since.
France convicted al-Senoussi and five other Libyans in absentia and sentenced them 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 people. The French government asked last year that he be handed over to France when captured.
Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.