Libya has rejected the arrest warrants issued for its leader Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and the country's intelligence chief for alleged atrocities committed against political opponents.
The ruling is a "cover for NATO which is still trying to assassinate Gaddafi", Mohammed al-Gamudi, Libya's justice minister, said.
Deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaaim said the International Criminal Court (ICC) "functions as a European foreign policy vehicle.
"It is a political court which serves its European paymasters," he said. "Our own courts will deal with any human rights abuses and other crimes committed in the course of conflict in Libya."
The ICC said the three men were wanted for their roles in suppressing the Libyan uprising, in which civilians have been murdered and persecuted by Gaddafi's forces.
The announcement was met with celebrations in rebel-held areas in Libya.
Al Jazeera's Sue Turton, reporting from Misurata, said the ICC move was news residents in the city had been "desperately waiting to hear".
"Almost every family here has lost a relative in the fighting or [has had a relative] abducted and taken to Tripoli. This is a sign to them that the international community has been listening when they’ve talked about war crimes committed in Misurata."
'Murder and persecution'
ICC judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng said evidence submitted by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor, was enough to establish "reasonable grounds to believe" the three were guilty of murder and the persecution of civilians, or "crimes against humanity", and that they should be arrested.
However, she stressed that the indictment and warrants were not proof of guilt, which must be proved at trial.
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Beginning on February 15, when demonstrations first broke out, and continuing until at least February 28, Monageng said, Libya's security and military forces killed or imprisoned hundreds of perceived dissidents in Tripoli, Misurata and Benghazi, along with a number of other cities.
Gaddafi had "absolute and unquestioned control over the Libyan state apparatus of power," while Saif al-Islam - his second-oldest son and "unspoken successor" - functioned as a "de factor prime minister" and controlled the state's finances and logistics, she said.
Intelligence chief Senussi, meanwhile, "exercised his role as the national head of military intelligence, one of the most powerful and efficient organs of repression," Monageng said.
She said that Senussi personally commanded regime forces and ordered them to attack civilians during the fighting in Benghazi, which lasted between February 15 and 27 and ended when the local military base known as the Katiba fell into anti-government hands.
Senussi and some of his men were reportedly allowed to escape after negotiating with troops who had defected to the protesters' side.
Thousands of jubilant Libyans danced and cheered in the streets of Benghazi amid a hail of celebratory gunfire and blasts of car horns.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the opposition National Council, welcomed the move by saying "justice has been done".
"The decision that was made today by the International Criminal Court stops all suggestions of negotiations with or protection for Gaddafi," he said.
"[Libyans] are worried that Gaddafi, who now is a prisoner in his own country, will fight until the end, until death"
Al Jazeera correspondent
Jalil also vowed to bring Gaddafi to task for crimes committed before the February uprising, but ruled out suggestions that a foreign force would be needed to catch him.
"We will do all we can to bring Gaddafi to justice ... The Libyan people are able to implement this decision".
But Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from the opposition stronghold, said some people in the city thought it was too early to celebrate any victory.
"Even the National Council made it clear that the door has been shut to any peaceful political settlement of this conflict. They are worried that Gaddafi, who now is a prisoner in his own country, will fight until the end, until death."
The ICC's decision coincided with the 100th day of NATO operations in Libya. International military intervention succeeded in turning back Gaddafi's advance on rebel-held cities, but opposition forces have made few advances since air strikes began on March 19.
Gaddafi has refused calls to step aside and has issued defiant video and audio messages from undisclosed locations, calling the intervention a "crusade" against his country and an attempt by the West to recolonise Libya.
Thousands have so far died in the fighting, while around 650,000 others have fled the country. Another 243,000 Libyans have been displaced internally, according to figures from the United Nations.
The warrant against Gaddafi was the second in the ICC's nine-year history issued for a sitting head of state. The ICC indicted the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, in 2009, though he has yet to be arrested.
It is unclear what practical effect the arrest warrant will have on the three Libyans. The warrant against Bashir seems to have little chance of being enforced: he has travelled to Qatar, Chad and Egypt without incident and is currently visiting China.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies