Libya, Mauritania, and Abdullah al Senussi

During the civil war in Libya last year, various lieutenants and family members of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi fled to North African countries like Algeria and Tunisia, and to Sahelian countries like Mauritania and Niger. The new Libyan government wants to extradite them so that they can stand trial in Libya, but it is getting more cooperation from some countries than others.

One important case concerns Abdullah al Senussi, Qadhafi’s former intelligence chief, who was arrested when entering Mauritania in March. Libyan officials traveled to Mauritania at the time, and for a moment it looked like they had struck a deal to extradite al Senussi. It turned out Mauritanian authorities had not agreed to let him go. This week brought a new chapter in the story when al Senussi was indicted by a Mauritanian court (more here). It seems al Senussi is likely to remain in Mauritania for the time being.

Contrast the approach in Mauritania with the one in Tunisia:

Tunisia will extradite former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s prime minister to Libya and the handover could take place in “days or weeks”, Justice Minister Noureddine Bouheiri said on Tuesday.

Should he be handed over, Al Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi would be the first senior official to be sent back for trial under Libya’s transitional leadership and his extradition could establish a precedent for other countries who have given refuge to or arrested members of Gaddafi’s old entourage.

Mahmoudi served as the Libyan dictator’s prime minister from 2006 until he fled to neighboring Tunisia around the time that rebel fighters took the capital Tripoli in August.

As for the Colonel’s son Saadi Qadhafi, who has taken refuge in Niger, I have seen no news on his extradition since earlier this month, when Niger was still in talks with the Libyan government. It will be interesting to see what fault lines emerge in the region in terms of which countries agree to extraditions, and which refuse or delay.

8 thoughts on “Libya, Mauritania, and Abdullah al Senussi

  1. Alex,
    From what you can tell right now, what factors account for the discrepancies in each country’s approach to extradition? Is it the particular country’s policy on extradition, each country’s previous relationship to the Qadhafi regime or its current relationship to the TNC, or is it determined by the value of the particular individual the country is harboring/turning over?


    • Hi Lesley, I’m honestly not sure. I think all of the factors you mention come into play. I think Niger is caught between lingering loyalties to Qadhafi’s circle (which must still have some political salience, otherwise they would not have granted refuge to his son and some of his lieutenants) and the imperative of having working relations with the new government in Libya. As for Mauritania, perhaps they feel the issue is one of sovereignty, or perhaps the particularities of al Senussi’s case are really shaping the situation (reports have said the Mauritanian government is treating him very well), but I feel less confident in parsing their motivations than I do with Niger. What do you make of it?

  2. I’m not sure what to make of it at this point. If I were to speculate, I would say that Tunisia’s willingness to hand over Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi might be an indication that it is willing to play its part in bringing Qadhafi-era leaders to justice if the TNC can ensure there is minimal instability spilling across the Libya-Tunisia border. With Niger, I think Sa’adi is a high-value bargaining chip, but he’s got to have something the Nigerien government needs, like money, a moderating influence on Tuareg tribes as a legacy of his father, etc. Mauritania is a trickier case though, as Sanussi is also an individual of high value. In order for the Mauritanians to refuse to cooperate with the Libyans, he must also have something they want – I just don’t know what that might be. So it’s possible that Sanussi is getting protection (i.e., not getting extradited to Libya, but being treated well and put on trial in Mauritania) and Mauritania gets to appear as though it is upholding its laws and exercising its national sovereignty.

  3. The Mauritanians are a fickle and dangerous people. I lived there from 2005 – 2010 and cannot fathom them out.When it comes to what you and I would describe as being a straight forward case of handing him over for justice, they claim he arrived with false papers and intend to prosecute him on this DESPITE the greater charges levelled aginst him by his own country and the French. To be honest the Mauritanian junta couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery and not just because they are Muslims!
    It might be a simple case of waiting to get paid to hand him over, like they do with journalists/documentary film-makers, who are cleared to film in RIM but get arrested anyway and usually have to pay 30 000 euros to get out of jail. The Maure takes offence rather too easily and remains your enemy for life. I know this to my own cost of working on a documentary detailing the lives of West African migrants in Mauritania for nearly two years and for the final six months had the Secret Service on my tail to take refuge in Mali at the end of it. It’s always money with them, no matter what.

  4. Money, intelligence, influence with the various groups in the Sahel and probably hedging their bets in case the current Libyan government collapses.

  5. No one thought that Ag Iyali was in perfect intelligence all these years with AQIM. He was known as a negotiator for the release of hostages after the payment of ransoms, since the kidnapping of the 32 hostages in 2003 or 2004. No wonder the major “players” were not moving against AQIM. For me, he was managing partially or fully the AQIM business on behalf of his “friends”. The article below from RFI tells it all.

    Mali: les pourparlers entre le MNLA et Ansar Dine dans l’impasse

    Par RFI
    Le MNLA et Ansar Dine, qui se partagent le contrôle du nord du Mali depuis fin mars 2012, vont-ils réussir à signer un accord ? Alors que les discussions allaient bon train à Gao depuis plusieurs semaines, plusieurs signes viennent démontrer le contraire. Ce qui pose problème est l’attitude d’Ansar Dine qui, sur le terrain, reste toujours l’allié objectif des jihadistes d’al-Qaïda au Maghreb islamique (Aqmi).

    Pour continuer à exister, le MNLA a coûte que coûte besoin du ralliement d’Iyad et de ses hommes. Mais les chefs politiques du MNLA répètent qu’il n’est pas question de perdre son âme en signant un accord avec des islamistes. Ansar Dine doit prendre ses distances vis à vis d’Aqmi.

    Or le MNLA a de plus en plus de doutes sur la bonne foi d’Iyad. Officiellement, le touareg des Ifoghas se serait engagé à dénoncer les enlèvements et à obtenir la libération des otages retenus par le Mujao, un autre groupe terroriste. Mais les faits sont têtus : depuis dimanche 20 mai, Iyad et ses hommes sont à Tombouctou. Ils y sont réunis en conclave avec les responsables d’Aqmi. Selon un responsable du Haut Conseil islamique, il s’agit d’évoquer leurs relations futures. Rien n’a filtré.

    Mercredi 23 mai, dans un enregistrement sonore, l’émir d’Aqmi, l’Algérien Abdelmalek Droukdel, a appelé ses hommes à imposer graduellement la charia au nord du Mali. Selon lui, il faut laisser Ansar Dine s’occuper de l’application de la charia dans l’Azawad. Il préconise d’éviter les provocations vis-à-vis du MNLA. A Gao, au QG du MNLA, on dénonce le double jeu d’Iyad ag Ghali et l’on assure que dans ces conditions, un accord avec Ansar Dine n’est pas prêt d’être signé.

  6. Pingback: Sahelian Governments Continue to Resist Extraditions to Libya | Sahel Blog

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