Mauritania has agreed that Muammar Gaddafi's intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, arrested in Nouakchott last week, can be extradited to Libya, Libya's deputy prime minister said on Tuesday.
The decision, if implemented, sets Libya on a collision course with France and the Hague-based International Criminal Court, which also want Senussi, Gaddafi's right-hand man before the Libyan dictator's overthrow and death in a revolt last year.
"I have met the president of Mauritania and he agreed to the extradition of Senussi to Libya," Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagour wrote on Twitter on Tuesday in a comment confirmed as official by a Libyan government representative.
"The Libyan delegation visited Senussi in prison and confirmed his identity. The criminal sits in a Mauritanian prison and soon will be in a Libyan prison," Shagour wrote in a second tweet in Arabic.
A Mauritanian security source said a deal was close but acknowledged pressure from Paris.
"We agreed to study their request favourably. It's almost a done deal but one should be careful. The French are applying lots of pressure," the source said on condition of anonymity.
"They say their claim takes priority because their arrest warrant went in first and because they helped with the arrest."
There was no immediate reaction from France or the ICC.
In Nouakchott, a source close to the presidency said a plane was due to arrive overnight from Libya and depart just before midday on Wednesday. It was unclear whether Senussi would be put on that plane or whether it was simply to take the Libyan delegation home. There was no official comment from Libya.
Senussi, whose whereabouts had been unclear for months, was arrested at Mauritania's Nouakchott airport late on Friday when he stepped off a flight from Morocco.
France and the International Criminal Court also want Senussi. The ICC has indicted him for crimes against humanity, while he is also alleged to have had a role in the 1989 bombing of an airliner in which 54 French nationals died.
"We want Senussi to be extradited to France. We feel we owe it to the victims' families and to justice," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said of a step that would allow France to confirm the life sentence already handed down to Senussi in absentia by a French court.