TRIPOLI, Libya — The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor sought arrest warrants Monday for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, his son and the country's intelligence chief for authorizing the killing of civilians in a crackdown on anti-government rebels.
Gadhafi's government denied the allegations.
The call for the inquest was the first such action in the Netherlands-based court linked to the Arab uprisings. It opened another potential front against Gadhafi's regime even as the autocratic leader stands firm against widening NATO airstrikes and rebels with growing international backing.
At least two explosions could be heard in Tripoli early Tuesday, indicating more NATO airstrikes. It was not immediately known what was targeted or whether there were any casualties. The sound of sporadic gunfire could be heard in downtown Tripoli.
NATO has stepped up its airstrikes in Tripoli in an apparent attempt to weaken Gadhafi's chief stronghold, the Libyan capital, and potentially target the leader himself.
The international warrants could further isolate Gadhafi and his inner circle and potentially complicate the options for a negotiated settlement. But they also could harden Gadhafi's resolve to stand and fight, since the legal action has been seen in Libya as giving NATO more justification to go after him.
Because the United Nations Security Council ordered the ICC investigation, U.N. member states would be obliged to arrest him if he ventured into their territory.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he was seeking warrants against Gadhafi, his son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi for ordering, planning and participating in illegal attacks. The younger Gadhafi has become one of the public faces of the regime through frequent interviews with the media.
Moreno-Ocampo said he had evidence that Gadhafi's forces attacked civilians in their homes, shot at demonstrators 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.
Still, an earlier case where the ICC did step in at the request of the U.N. didn't result in the desired arrest. Although Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted for crimes including genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, at least three countries have let him visit without detaining him.
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.
Regimes in Egypt and Tunisia — which eventually were overthrown — were accused of human rights violations in their efforts to end street demonstrations. Similar charges have been leveled at the rulers of Bahrain, Yemen and Syria.
In London on Monday, a British defense minister, Nick Harvey, told legislators he believed it was likely the court would seek to charge Syrian President Bashar Assad over his government's violent crackdown on protests.
He said the court was "highly likely to arrive at a similar conclusion" in the case of Assad as it had with Gadhafi. Britain and other countries have called on the Assad regime to halt its violence.
Libyan spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli that the regime would pay no attention to arrest warrants that could be issued against Gadhafi or the others, saying the prosecutor relied on faulty media reports and "reached incoherent conclusions."
In the eastern city of Benghazi, headquarters for the opposition movement, rebel spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga said the rebels welcomed the ICC case.
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