The Hague, Netherlands | AFP | International judges issued a war crimes arrest warrant Tuesday against a senior Libyan military commander, suspected of involvement in the deaths of 33 people in the war-torn city of Benghazi.
“The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant of arrest for Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf Al-Werfalli, allegedly responsible for murder as a war crime in the context of the non-international armed conflict in Libya,” the Hague-based tribunal said in a statement.
Al-Werfalli, born in 1978, is a senior commander in the Al-Saiqa brigade, an elite unit which defected from the Libyan National Army after the uprising against longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.
He joined the brigade after Kadhafi’s fall and has “played a commanding role since at least 2015,” the ICC’s judges said in the arrest warrant.
Since then, the brigade has been battling alongside forces loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, which has recently been liberated after a three-year campaign against jihadist groups.
– Executions –
Al-Werfalli is accused of involvement in at least seven incidents in 2016 and 2017 in which he allegedly personally shot or ordered the execution of people who were either civilians or injured fighters.
“There is no information in the evidence to show that they have been afforded a trial by a legitimate court, whether military or otherwise, that would comport to any recognised standard of due process,” the ICC’s judges said.
The evidence included video footage purportedly showing Al-Werfalli shooting a hooded and unarmed person and afterwards telling the dead body: “You have been misled by he who did you harm. You have been misled by Satan.”
In other footage, Al-Werfalli is allegedly seen reading from a document before personally commanding a firing squad which then shoots 15 people wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods, the ICC’s judges said.
“After reading the document Mr Al-Werfalli says… ‘Ready! Aim! Fire!,” the judges said, after which the executioners shoot the prisoners in three groups of five.
Al-Werfalli and two other men then allegedly personally execute three people, before he orders the execution of yet another two others.
“The video depicting the incident, involving a total 20 executed persons, was posted on social media on 23 July 2017,” the judges said.
Human Rights Watch in March said forces under Haftar’s command may have committed war crimes including summary executions.
It called on Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army to conduct a “full and transparent” investigation into the incidents.
– ‘Cruel, dehumanising crimes’ –
The ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda called on Libyan authorities to arrest and hand over Al-Werfalli to ensure his surrender to the ICC “without delay”.
“Such egregious crimes, including the cruel and dehumanising manner by which they were perpetrated against helpless victims, must be stopped,” Bensouda said.
But Tuesday’s announcement came as the court is still in a legal tug-of-war with Libyan authorities to transfer Kadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam to The Hague.
The ICC and Libyan authorities are disputing who has the right to judge him.
Seif faces crimes against humanity charges for his own role in the Kadhafi regime’s brutal attempts to put down the 2011 uprising which eventually toppled his father.
The Kadhafi heir’s exact whereabouts are unknown, following a claim in June by a Zintan-based militia that it had freed Seif under an amnesty law promulgated by the parliament based in Libya’s east.
The ICC, set up to investigate and prosecute the world’s worst crimes, opened its probe into Libya in March 2011 to investigate atrocities committed during the uprising against Kadhafi, which erupted a month earlier.
It was launched after the UN Security Council referred the matter to the court when Libya was still under the iron-fisted rule of Kadhafi, who was killed a few months later by rebels in the NATO-backed uprising.
So far it has issued five arrest warrants, and three cases are under active investigation.
Political rivalries and fighting between militias have hampered Libya’s efforts to recover from the chaos that followed the uprising in the oil-rich country.