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Libya, France, International Criminal Court all want a piece of Gadhafi henchman Senussi

Abdullah Al-Senussi, head of the Libyan Intelligence Service speaks to the media in Tripoli August 21, 2011. REUTERS/Paul Hackett
Abdullah Al-Senussi, head of the Libyan Intelligence Service speaks to the media in Tripoli August 21, 2011. REUTERS/Paul Hackett© Paul Hackett / Reuters / Reuters

The arrest of Moammar Gadhafi's ex-spy chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, in Mauritania has set off a three-way tussle for his extradition.

Libya has formally requested that Mauritania hand over Senussi, who arrived there Saturday on an overnight flight.

But Senussi, who for decades before the late dictator's fall inspired fear and hatred in ordinary Libyans, also is sought by the Hague-based International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity during last year's conflict.

And France -- confirming it played a role in his arrest -- stressed his alleged role in the 1989 bombing of an airliner over Niger in which 54 French nationals died.

"Today we confirm the news of the arrest of Abdullah al-Senussi," Libyan government spokesman Nasser al-Manee told a news conference in Tripoli.

"He was arrested this morning in Nouakchott airport and there was a young man with him. We think it is his son," he said, confirming a Mauritanian state news agency report that Senussi had been arrested with a false Malian passport arriving from Casablanca, Morocco.

France, which led Western backing for the popular uprising that toppled Gaddafi, said it had cooperated with Mauritanian authorities over the arrest and that it would be sending an arrest warrant to Mauritania.

A statement from President Nicolas Sarkozy's office noted Senussi had been sentenced in absentia for the 1989 bombing of a UTA airliner, in which 170 people were killed. Families of the victims immediately demanded he face justice in France.

An ICC spokesman said an ICC arrest warrant for Senussi also remained valid and requested that it be implemented.

But Libya's National Transitional Council was adamant.

"We insist that Senussi is extradited to Libya," NTC spokesman Mohammed al-Harizy said. "There are demands from the ICC and France to get Senussi, but the priority is to deliver Senussi to Libya."

While Mauritania is not a signatory to the Rome Statute governing the ICC, rights groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both said Mauritania was bound by the U.N. Security Council to fully cooperate with the ICC.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement that the Libyan justice system in any case "remains weak and unable to conduct effective investigations into alleged crimes."

Britain, along with France one of the key Western backers of the insurgency, also cited the need for Mauritania to cooperate with the ICC in a statement attributed to Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Msnbc.com staff contributed to this report from Reuters.

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