|Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Gaddafi personally ordered attacks on Libyan civilians [Reuters]
The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor has asked a three-judge panel to issue arrest warrants for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, his second-eldest son, Saif al-Islam, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo described the evidence against the three men as "very strong" in a press conference on Monday and said he believed Libyans eventually would turn them over to the court.
The filing against Gaddafi comes just three months into the uprising against his 41-year rule, which evolved from peaceful protests in major cities to an armed rebellion based out of the east. Gaddafi's regime has brutally attempted to suppress the opposition movement by shelling rebellious cities, and imprisoning and torturing those who speak out.
Ocampo presented a 74-page dossier of evidence to the court in the Hague, the Netherlands, on Monday. The judges are to decide whether to reject the petition, ask for more evidence or confirm crimes against humanity charges and issue international arrest warrants.
"The evidence shows Muammar Gaddafi personally ordered attacks on unarmed civilians," Ocampo said at the press conference. "[He] committed the crimes with the goal of preserving his authority, his absolute authority."
Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam and Abdullah Senussi held meetings to plan the crackdown, Ocampo said. Security forces loyal to the government then attacked civilians in their homes, used heavy weaponry on funeral processions, and set up snipers to shoot at people as they left prayers at mosques, he said.
Activists were imprisoned, held incommunicado and tortured, he said.
Ocampo described Saif al-Islam as Gaddafi's "de facto prime minister" and Senussi as his "right-hand man" and "executioner".
"The office gathered direct evidence about orders issued by Muammar Gaddafi himself, direct evidence of Saif al-Islam organising the recruitment of mercenaries, and direct evidence of the participation of Senussi in the attacks against demonstrators," Ocampo said.
The prosecution's investigation into potential human rights violations has spanned several countries and involved around 1,500 documents, Al Jazeera's Rory Challands said.
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But the two-and-a-half months it has taken to come up with a petition for arrest warrants is a "heartbeat in international justice," he added.
Ocampo said he was able to finish his investigation quickly because the Gaddafi regime had committed its crimes in only a few cities, including Tripoli and Benghazi, and because the crimes had been committed in a short time.
Investigators received numerous phone calls from sources inside Libya but took no official testimony, since it would have put them at risk, Ocampo said.
"Gaddafi ruled Libya through fear, and Libyans are losing their fear now," he said.
The Libyan government has denied allegations that it launched illegal attacks on civilians.
Spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said on Monday that the ICC prosecutor had relied on faulty media reports and "reached incoherent conclusions".
Pursuing ICC suspects
In Brussels, NATO said Ocampo's announcement was "further proof that the international isolation of the Gaddafi regime is growing every day'.'
NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu added: "It is hard to imagine that a genuine transition in Libya can take place while those responsible for widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population remain in
Despite NATO bombing operations intended to protect civilians, Libya has been plunged into civil war, seriously complicating efforts to arrest ICC suspects.
In addition, the ICC has no police force and must rely on states to enforce any arrests - a strategy which has failed to produce results in the case of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, who is wanted for genocide in Darfur.
Libya is not a member of the ICC, but Ocampo said Libyan authorities had primary responsibility to make arrests and that he expected Libyans to hand over the three men on their own.
Richard Dicker, at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the request for arrest warrants "is a warning bell to others in Libya that serious crimes there will be punished".
Prosecutors are also investigating allegations of mass rapes, war crimes committed by different parties and attacks against sub-Saharan Africans wrongly seen as mercenaries once the Libyan situation developed into an armed conflict.
Initially, prosecutors will rely on a report from the UN Commission of Inquiry set up by the Human Rights Council, which itself is due to report on the situation on June 7.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies