Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf Al-Werfalli. An undated and unlocated picture released on 15 August 2017, by the International Criminal Court (AFP)
A Libyan commander wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes has escaped from prison, the forces of eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar said on Thursday.
In a statement, Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) said the commander had ordered Mahmoud al-Werfalli’s re-arrest following his breakout.
The LNA did not mention when he escaped.
The ICC issued the first warrant for Werfalli’s arrest in August last year, accusing him of having ordered or personally carried out the execution-style killings of 33 prisoners between March and July 2017 and in June 2016 that were filmed and posted to social media sites.
On July 5, the ICC issued a second arrest warrant for Werfalli over his “alleged responsibility for murder as a war crime”.
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The war crimes charge against Werfalli is based on seven separate incidents of executions which were documented in seven separate pieces of video footage included in the ICC warrant.
After the ICC said it was seeking Werfalli’s arrest in August, the LNA announced that it was investigating him and had detained him, although his whereabouts remained unclear.
Since then, Werfalli has remained at large. In January, fresh footage emerged which showed him carrying out summary executions.
The footage appeared to show the executions taking place in front of Benghazi’s Bayaat al-Radwaan mosque, after a twin bombing on 23 January left at least 37 people dead.
Born in 1978, Werfalli is a commander of the Al-Saiqa brigade, an elite unit that defected from Libya’s military during the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Werfalli subsequently fought on the same side as the LNA and its leader Haftar, who refuses to recognise the authority of a UN-backed government based in Tripoli and supports a parallel administration in eastern Libya.
In February, Werfalli said in a video posted on his Facebook account that he had surrendered to LNA military police after the ICC issued its first arrest warrant. This information could not be independently verified.
Forces loyal to Haftar indicated in August last year that they had arrested Werfalli and said he was the subject of an “investigation in front of the military prosecutor general”.
ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has repeatedly called for Werfalli’s arrest, including by appealing to Haftar to hand him over during an address to the UN Security Council in November 2017.
She has also called for the arrest of Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam and former internal security chief al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled for alleged war crimes.