THE HAGUE, Netherlands - The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants Monday for Moammar Gadhafi, his son Seif, and his intelligence chief for crimes against humanity in the Libyan leader’s four-month battle to cling to power.
Judges announced that the three men are wanted for orchestrating the killing, injuring, arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the first 12 days of an uprising to topple Gadhafi from power, and for trying to cover up the alleged crimes.
The warrants turn Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi into internationally wanted suspects, potentially complicating efforts to mediate an end to more than four months of intense fighting in the North African nation.
Presiding judge Sanji Monageng of Botswana said Monday there were "reasonable grounds to believe" that Gadhafi and his son are both "criminally responsible as indirect co-perpetrators" for the murder and persecution of civilians.
She called Gadhafi the "undisputed leader of Libya" who had "absolute, ultimate and unquestioned control" over his country’s military and security forces.
Libyan officials rejected the court’s authority even before the decision was read in a Hague courtroom, claiming the court had unfairly targeted Africans while ignoring what they called crimes committed by NATO in Afghanistan, Iraq "and in Libya now."
"The ICC has no legitimacy whatsoever. We will deal with it. ... All of its activities are directed at African leaders," government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters Sunday.
Monageng said evidence presented by prosecutors showed that following popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Gadhafi and his inner circle plotted a "state policy ... aimed at deterring and quelling by any means — including by the use of lethal force — the demonstrations by civilians against the regime."
She said it was impossible to put an exact number on the casualties, but said Gadhafi’s security forces likely "killed and injured as well as arrested and imprisoned hundreds of civilians."
Prosecutors at the court said the three suspects should be arrested quickly "to prevent them covering up ongoing crimes and committing new crimes."
"This is the only way to protect civilians in Libya," said the statement from the office of Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
Shortly before the court announced the warrants, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reiterated his call for Gadhafi to step down.
"After 41 years of dictatorship, it is perhaps time to stop, for him to leave power," he told a news conference in Paris. "Mr. Gadhafi knows perfectly well what he must do for peace to return. It only depends on him."
In Tripoli, two loud explosions shook the area near Gadhafi’s compound Monday. NATO jets were heard over the Libyan capital minutes after the blasts as sirens from emergency vehicles blared in the streets.
The thunderous late-morning blasts were felt at a hotel where foreign journalists stay in Tripoli.
Smoke rose from the area near Gadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya complex, where Libyans hold daily rallies in support of the government. Gadhafi is not believed to be staying in the compound.
It wasn’t immediately clear what was hit or if there were civilian casualties.
A coalition including France, Britain and the United States began striking Gadhafi’s forces under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians on March 19. NATO assumed control of the air campaign over Libya on March 31 and is joined by a number of Arab allies.
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