Ben Curtis, File, Associated Press
TRIPOLI, Libya — The International Criminal Court prosecutor asked judges Monday to issue arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and two other senior members of his regime, accusing them of committing crimes against humanity by targeting civilians in a crackdown against rebels.
The move by prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo came as rebel fighters inside the Libyan city of Misrata said Monday that they had driven Gadhafi's forces from another key point on the port city's outskirts, but there were conflicting reports on whether the rebels would advance farther for fear of opening too wide a front.
Moreno-Ocampo said he was seeking warrants against Gadhafi as well as his son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi. The three, he said, ordered, planned and participated in illegal attacks.
He said Gadhafi's forces attacked civilians in their homes, shot at demonstrators protesting his 40 years of rule with live ammunition, shelled funeral processions and deployed snipers to kill people leaving mosques.
Judges must now evaluate the evidence before deciding whether to confirm the charges and issue international arrest warrants.
"The case is now in their hands," Moreno-Ocampo told reporters at a press conference in The Hague, Netherlands.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said he had no immediate comment.
Speaking before Moreno-Ocampo's announcement, Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim, said the threat of arrest warrants was not worth discussing.
He told reporters in Tripoli on Sunday that Gadhafi's regime would "not show any attention to the decision," adding that Libya did not recognize the jurisdiction of the international court. He said that most African countries also reject its rules.
Still, the arrest warrants — if they are issued — are seen in Libya as giving NATO more justification to target Gadhafi in its campaign of airstrikes. Although NATO spokesmen say they are not trying to assassinate Gadhafi, the nature of their strikes suggests they are trying to hit the Libyan leader.
Arrest warrants also could complicate efforts to find a haven for Gadhafi as a part of any negotiated settlement to the Libyan crisis.
Because the United Nations Security Council ordered the ICC investigation, all U.N. member states would be obliged to arrest him if he ventures into their territory.
Asked why he has not launched similar investigations into other Arab uprisings, Moreno-Ocampo said that no such action had been requested by the Security Council, as it was in the case of Libya.
The rebels applauded the prosecutor's action.
Guma el-Gamaty, a spokesman in Britain for the Benghazi-based Interim National Council — the political wing of Libya's rebel forces — called it "a very important step along the way to putting more pressure on Gadhafi and his son" to leave or face arrest.
Members of the NATO coalition also welcomed Moreno-Ocampo's decision to seek warrants.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement that "the behavior of the Gadhafi regime remains of grave concern." He, along with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, said the warrants serve as a reminder that criminal acts will face international justice.
Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, meanwhile, said Italy was "working with the U.N. so that a political way out is found to take the dictator and his family off the scene and allow the immediate establishment of a national reconciliation government."
In Libya, the rebel forces appeared to have expanded their hold on Misrata, the only major opposition stronghold in western Libya. Most of Libya's rebel forces are concentrated in the east.
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