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Libya's Haftar promotes accused war criminal wanted by international court

Mahmoud Mustafa al-Werfalli, wanted since 2017 over alleged killings, promoted to rank of lieutenant colonel in Libyan National Army
Werfalli (R) 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 (Screengrab)

An internationally wanted military commander in Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) who is accused of war crimes has been promoted, according to the LNA's official Facebook page.

Mahmoud Mustafa al-Werfalli, the subject of an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in August 2017, was promoted from the rank of major to lieutenant colonel by Haftar, the LNA's commander-in-chief, the LNA said in the statement.

The ICC warrant accuses Werfalli of “alleged responsibility for murder as a war crime” and carrying out execution-style killings of 33 prisoners between March and July 2017 and in June 2016 that were filmed and posted to social media sites.

Video footage of mass execution in Libya by Werfalli emerged on social media, January 2018 (Screengrab/Twitter)

It was the first time the ICC had issued an arrest warrant based solely on social media-sourced evidence in a case involving a Libyan military commander.

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The charge against Werfalli is based on seven incidents of alleged executions which were documented in seven separate pieces of video footage.

After the ICC said it was seeking Werfalli's arrest in August 2017, the LNA announced that it was investigating him and had detained him, though his whereabouts then were unclear.

In January 2018, fresh footage emerged which appeared to show Werfalli 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 (Thunderbolt) Forces, 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. 

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.

Currently, Haftar's LNA troops are waging a military offensive to capture the region around the capital Tripoli, known historically as Tripolitania, where 3.5 million live, representing almost 60 percent of Libya’s population.

The LNA has so far failed to capture Tripoli, and the pro-government forces on the capital's outskirts have successfully slowed Haftar's advance.

In recent months Libya's political and military situation has been muddied further by foreign interventions.

The US and other western powers, for example, officially back Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj's Government of National Accord, but his administration has accused them, especially France, of covertly backing Haftar.

Last month, after Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Haftar, the White House said in a statement that the US President "recognised Field Marshal Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources".

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