The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for embattled Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
Qaddafi is accused of ordering attacks on civilians and other crimes against humanity as part of a brutal crackdown on a rebel-led uprising against his rule, which began in February.
Judge Sanji Monageng, speaking in The Hague, The Netherlands, announced that the ICC was seeking the arrest of Qaddafi, along with his son Saif al-Islam, and his intelligence chief.
"Muammar Qaddafi, in coordination with his inner circle, including Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, conceived and orchestrated a plan to deter and quell, by all means, the civilian demonstrations against the regime," Monageng said.
Libya's intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, is charged with persecuting and murdering members of the opposition.
ICC prosecutors said the three suspects should be arrested quickly to prevent destruction of evidence and new crimes from being committed.
The unrest in Libya came just weeks after similar uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia led to the overthrow of both countries' leaders.
The Qaddafi government rejected the warrant in strong terms. Libyan Justice Minister Mohammad al-Qamoodi called the ICC a "tool of the Western world to prosecute leaders in the Third World. "
'He's A War Criminal'
Following the June 27 announcement, Mustafa Abel Jalil, the head of the rebels' Transitional National Council, told a news conference in Benghazi, the rebels’ eastern stronghold that "the decision issued today by the International Criminal Court renders any proposals or initiatives to protect Muammar al-Qaddafi or to hold talks with him pointless."
Celebrations broke out in the city as news of the ICC warrant spread.
Rebel council spokesman Jalal al-Galal told Reuters that "people feel vindicated" by the decision.
"The world has confirmed what we have been saying all along," Galal said. "He's a war criminal and he should be tried for it."
Saleh Mohammed, who lives in Misurata -- a rebel-held city in the west that has been heavily shelled in the conflict -- told Reuters on June 26 that Libyans feel Qaddafi's arrest would be a key step in ending the violence.
"I hope he will be arrested at this moment, and the order declared to arrest him," Mohammed said. "As long as he stays, he is doing more crime and more of killing every day. With his rockets there is no safe place. It's true his forces left the city, but his rocket targeted us. There is no target -- only people in all areas and everywhere."
Speaking June 26, before the ICC warrant was issued, Libyan government spokesman Musa Ibrahim said Tripoli rejected the court's authority.
Qaddafi has vowed that he will never surrender.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague was one of several foreign leaders who on June 27 welcomed the move by the ICC, saying the warrants "further demonstrate why Qaddafi has lost all legitimacy and why he should go immediately."
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, meanwhile, praised the decision as one that "reinforces the reason for NATO's mission" in Libya.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that "our view is that the actions of the security forces and the Qaddafi regime that are highlighted in the court's decision underscore the gravity of what we have been witnessing and what the coalition has been trying to prevent in Libya, and in the face of these crimes of this kind of magnitude and this gravity, the need for justice and accountability is absolutely clear."
“It's time for [Qaddafi] to get the hint that it's time to go," Nuland added.
NATO air forces have been conducting air strikes against military targets in Libya for the past 100 days in an effort aimed at stopping Qaddafi from inflicting violence against his own people.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed in the North African country in recent months in what has become the bloodiest of the antigovernment revolts currently shaking the Arab world.
compiled from agency reports