By The Associated Press

The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court said May 9 that her office is “steadily progressing” in its investigation of crimes committed in Libya and expects to issue new arrest warrants “in the near future.”

Fatou Bensouda told the U.N. Security Council there has been “significant progress” in investigations in Libya not only on events in 2011 that led to the overthrow and death of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi but more recent and ongoing crimes.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda looks on in the court room of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, file)

Because of insecurity, Bensouda said, the ICC was long unable to conduct investigative missions in Libya after June 2012. But she said a team from her office was able to travel to Libya in March, a visit she called “a significant advance in my office’s investigative activities.”

The Security Council referred Libya to the ICC in February 2011 during Gadhafi’s bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters. The uprising against Gadhafi’s 42-year rule quickly escalated into civil war, and ended in October 2011 with Gadhafi’s capture and death.

Since 2014, Libya has been split between rival governments and parliaments based in the western and eastern regions, each backed by different militias and tribes. A U.N.-brokered deal in December 2015 to create a unity government failed, though efforts are being made to hold elections this year.

Bensouda cautioned that “even though my office is making important progress, significant challenges remain.”

She pointed to a volatile security situation exacerbated by armed conflict between militias in many parts of Libya and serious human rights violations including extra-judicial killings and arbitrary detentions. She also cited reports of migrants being killed and mistreated in detention and in transit and of slave auctions, which she called “an assault on the oneness of humanity.”

Conflict and instability in Libya “continue to create a fertile ground for violence, and regrettably, the commission of atrocities,” Bensouda warned.

The prosecutor updated the council on the three Libyans subject to ICC arrest warrants and again urged Libyan authorities and other countries to arrest and hand them over to the court, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands.

Bensouda focused mainly on Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a Libyan military officer sought for his alleged role in committing or ordering seven executions that killed a total of 33 captives in the city of Benghazi last year. She noted the executions were filmed and posted on social media.

Since the ICC warrant was issued last August, Bensouda said, al-Werfalli has continued to act as a commander in the Al-Saiqa Brigade and “there are now credible allegations … he has committed further murders which may be prosecuted by my office as war crimes.” She pointed to photos and video on social media on Jan. 24-25 that appear to show al-Werfalli “brutally murdering 10 people” in front of a Benghazi mosque.

Bensouda said she has called on the commander of the Libyan National Army, Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who controls Benghazi and is al-Werfalli’s superior, to facilitate his arrest and surrender. She said Hifter’s army has claimed it is investigating al-Werfalli but “these claims simply do not appear credible.”

The prosecutor said his arrest is more important than ever not only to answer for his alleged crimes but to send “a clear message” to would-be perpetrators that there will be consequences for “such reprehensible crimes.”

Bensouda said the current whereabouts of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the late dictator’s son, who is charged with murder and persecution for his alleged role in the violent suppression of the 2011 protests, remain unknown. He was released from custody in June 2017 after more than five years in detention as part of a pardon issued by the Libyan parliament based in the country’s eastern region.

The prosecutor said her office is also trying to locate Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, former head of the Libyan Internal Security Agency, who is wanted for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes. The charges involve prisoners held by Libyan security forces during the 2011 protests.