TRIPOLI, Libya — Airstrikes and arrest warrants put negotiations in Libya ever further out of reach on Monday, as massive explosions rocked Moammar Gaddafi’s compound just hours after international prosecutors said that he, his son and his intelligence chief had committed crimes against humanity.
The bombs that thundered across Tripoli on Monday evening reflected NATO’s resolve to strike targets closer to the Libyan leader himself. The legal accusations narrowed the range of figures inside the Libyan government who could credibly make a deal with the forces that oppose Gaddafi, analysts said.
George Joffe, a Libya expert and research fellow at Cambridge University, said that either NATO bombing or an internal coup was most likely to end Gaddafi’s rule, not negotiation. “There is a growing sense in his entourage that they’re in an impasse,” Joffe said.
Prosecutors in The Hague said Monday that they had collected enough evidence to request arrest warrants for Gaddafi; his British-educated son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi; and his intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi.
But an arrest warrant may have little immediate effect on Gaddafi’s movements or power. An arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was issued in 2009, and he remains his country’s head of state. Bashir has visited other African countries since the warrant was issued — including some that have signed on to the International Criminal Court — but has not been arrested.
The prosecutors’ announcement came a day after Britain’s top military commander called for NATO to expand its military campaign to prevent a stalemate. Gen. David Richards told the Sunday Telegraph that he wanted to increase the range of targets NATO could hit.
That threat seemed to unsettle Libya’s government. It announced Monday that the country’s telecommunications workers and their families — 45,000 men, women and children in all — had volunteered to serve as human shields to protect key infrastructure from bombing. It was impossible to verify the claim.
The legal proceedings against the three officials likely eliminated Saif al-Islam Gaddafi as a potential Libyan negotiating partner, analysts said.
Before protests and rebellion erupted in Libya in February, the son had been seen by many in the West as the best hope for reform in Libya. Fluent in English and trained at the London School of Economics, he hobnobbed with much of Britain’s high society.
But many of Libya’s rebels and Western officials saw him in a new light after he gave two bellicose speeches in the early days of the protests.
The request for an arrest warrant validates “the idea that Saif has made the transformation from being a reformer to being in it up to his knees,” said Shashank Joshi, an associate fellow of Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, a think tank.
Libya, which has not signed the International Criminal Court treaty, said before the prosecutors’ announcement that it would “ignore” any warrants that were issued.
“We will not show much attention to the decision,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim, alleging that the court — which has carried out most of its work in Africa – unfairly targets leaders on that continent. The court “is a baby for the European Union,” he added.
The request for arrest warrants, accompanied by a 74-page dossier detailing the alleged crimes, was bolstered by information from “high-level officials in Gaddafi’s regime” who contacted The Hague in the past week, prosecutors said.
The warrants, which still need to be approved by the court, would mean that the three officials could be arrested in any country that has signed on to the court treaty.
“The evidence shows that Moammar Gaddafi personally ordered attacks on unarmed Libyan civilians,” chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said. “We have such strong evidence, direct evidence of their involvement in the crimes.” He called Senussi an “executioner.”
The White House welcomed the prosecutors’ action, which it said was part of a larger international effort to ensure that Gaddafi and his allies are held accountable for attacks on civilians.
“The actions of the security forces and the Gaddafi regime that have been highlighted by the prosecutor underscore the gravity of what we are witnessing in Libya today,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor. “As new reports emerge that the Gaddafi regime continues to directly target civilians, it is clear that the need for justice and accountability persists.”
Moreno-Ocampo said that he had received many phone calls in the past week from within Libya, but he stressed that his office did not take formal evidence from the callers because of fears that they would suffer repercussions.
Still, he said, the phone calls were a sign of changing sentiments in the country. “Gaddafi ruled Libya through fear, and it seems Libyans are losing their fear now,” he said.
The International Criminal Court was established in 2002 to try individuals accused of the most serious crimes, including war crimes and genocide. The court has jurisdiction over countries that have ratified the treaty creating the court, or in cases in which the U.N. Security Council has voted to refer an alleged series of crimes to the prosecutor, as was the case for Libya.
International prosecutions have not always undercut peace efforts. Both Liberian President Charles Taylor and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic resigned their positions after they had been made targets of international investigations. Both wound up in court.
Staff writers Joby Warrick in Washington and Colum Lynch in New York contributed to this report.