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Australian lawyer for Seif al-Islam arrested in Libya

By Dominique Soguel

ZINTAN, Libya (AFP) - Libya has arrested one of the defence lawyers for Seif al-Islam, the detained son of slain leader Moamer Kadhafi, accusing her of trying to pass "dangerous" documents to him, sources said on Saturday.

The lawyer, Australian Melinda Taylor, works with Xavier-Jean Keita, the defence attorney appointed by the International Criminal Court, which is seeking to try Seif and Kadhafi's former intelligence chief for crimes against humanity.

"During a visit (to Seif on Thursday), the lawyer tried to deliver documents to the accused, documents that have nothing to do with his case and that represent a danger to the security of Libya," said Ahmed al-Jehani, Libya's representative to the ICC.

Jehani said Taylor is "under house arrest in Zintan, not in prison," and is being questioned.

Also arrested was an unidentified woman said to be acting as Taylor's interpreter.

The visit was authorised by Libya's chief prosecutor, and the complaint is that Taylor had tried to deliver the documents without first declaring them.

The ICC's spokesman in The Hague could not be reached for comment, but a source said a statement was forthcoming.

Jehani did not say what documents Taylor was carrying, except that they had been sent by Mohammed Ismail, Seif's former right-hand man, who has been on the run since the revolt.

Ajmi al-Atiri, commander of the Zintan brigade that arrested Seif, confirmed at a news conference in the town that there had been "a security breach" during the visit and that the lawyer had been detained for questioning.

He said the delegation came on Thursday and that Taylor visited Seif with a female interpreter, who had claimed to be a nurse and was found to be in possession of a camera when searched by a policewoman. He did not elaborate.

There had been an attempt to exchange documents, including an unsigned letter from Seif to the ICC saying "there is no government or law in Libya" and that he was being "ill-treated."

There was also a blank document signed by him, Atiri said.

Meanwhile, Atiri said the brigade had been "surprised" that National Transitional Council chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil had made telephone calls requesting the "immediate release" of the detainees.

For his part, a foreign ministry official said Libya will request that the ICC waive the lawyer's immunities so that formal investigations can begin.

"I think the woman will be with us for a while until the waiver is granted by the International Criminal Court so we can formally start the investigations," Mohammed Abdulaziz told AFP.

He added that the delegation should have formally declared the documents.

"It is an act that is jeopardising the national security of Libya and we are taking it very seriously," he said.

Seif, 39, has been in custody in Zintan since his arrest on November 19 in the wake of the uprising that toppled his father after more than 40 years in power.

The ICC wants both Seif and his late father's spymaster, Abdullah Senussi, for crimes against humanity committed while trying to put down last year's bloody revolt.

Tripoli and the ICC have been at loggerheads since Seif al-Islam's capture over where he should be tried, with Libya arguing it could put him in the dock before a local court.

On May 1, officials asked the court's judges to quash a surrender request and throw out the case.

"Denying the Libyan state and its people the opportunity to carry out national proceedings, in accordance... with Libyan law, would likely mean no state emerging from conflict could ever benefit from the complementary principle," Libya's lawyers said.

That was a reference to the ICC's jurisdiction, which is complementary to that of national courts, enabling it to act only when member states are unable or unwilling to do so.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Seif and Senussi in June 2011, and wants to see them tried in The Hague.

A third warrant for the late Libyan strongman was nullified after Kadhafi was killed by rebel forces on October 20, 2011.