ICC Suspect Al-Werfalli ‘Escapes’ from Prison in Libya

On July 4, 2018, Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a second warrant of arrest for Mahmoud al-Werfalli, the commander of Al-Saiqa Brigade, an elite force within the Libyan National Army (LNA). ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in her statement that the second arrest warrant was issued against al-Werfalli for his role in an “eighth incident in which another 10 persons were allegedly executed in front of the Baya’at al-Radwan mosque on 24 January of this year.”

The same pre-trial chamber issued al-Werfalli’s first warrant of arrest on August 15, 2017, after the judges found reasonable grounds to believe that he is responsible for seven separate rounds of executions, in which 33 people were murdered. These alleged incidents took place from June 2016 to July 2017.

Earlier this year, reports surfaced that al-Werfalli had surrendered to military police in the eastern city of Al-Marj but that he had been subsequently released a day later. Libyan sources at that time said Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan army, released him in order to avoid internal clashes within the LNA.

However, recent articles state that al-Werfalli has been in military prison in Al-Marj since February.  One Libyan source stated that he had “escaped” from detention in a “prison break” and that his loyalists escorted him to Benghazi, raising suspicion that Haftar facilitated his exit. However, to complicate matters further, Libyan activists, according to Al-Araby newspaper, said that he was not in the prison but in a private residence upon orders from Haftar himself.

The situation remains unclear. No statement has been made from any of the parties involved, including the ICC, and Haftar’s role in the situation raises questions about his complicity to protect al-Werfalli. According to sources quoted by Reuters, Haftar said to number of commanders from Al-Saiqa Brigade that al-Werfalli’s case was “a national case, and the nation is greater than any court.”

In addition to the al-Werfalli case, two other individuals have outstanding arrest warrants in relation to the ICC investigation in Libya.  Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi is charged with two counts of crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the uprising of early 2011. Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khalid is charged with four counts of crimes against humanity also allegedly committed during the Libyan uprising in 2011.


Mohamed Osman is an Aryeh Neier Fellow at the Open Society Justice Initiative. He holds a LL.B and Postgraduate Diploma on Human Rights from the University of Khartoum as well as a LL.M on International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law from University of Essex (2015-2016). His thesis focused on the application of rule of law by armed opposition groups in their controlled territories.


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