BEIRUT – A group of mercenaries has offered to help Moammar Gadhafi’s fugitive son and onetime heir apparent to evade arrest and trial, an international prosecutor said Friday.

The International Criminal Court warned that authorities might intercept any aircraft linked to the plot to shield Seif al-Islam Gadhafi from facing war crimes charges pending against him.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo also said his office has had “informal contact” with the fugitive son, once regarded as the reformist face of his father’s regime.

ICC MIGHT INTERCEPT PLANE

Mercenaries have offered to aid the son escape to an African nation that does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, Moreno-Ocampo said. The prosecutor did not identify the nation.

Prosecutors are “exploring the possibility” of intercepting any aircraft carrying Gadhafi’s son in order to make an arrest, Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement issued in The Hague, Netherlands, where the court is based.

He did not say how the ICC could intercept a plane, other than to note that such a move would have to be done in the airspace of a nation that accepted the court’s jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, NATO said Friday that, as expected, it will end its controversial Libya operations as of Monday. That will mark the end of a momentous seven-month air and sea campaign that played a central role in the ouster of Gadhafi after more than four decades in power.

“We have fully complied with the historic mandate of the United Nations to protect the people of Libya,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.

ARREST WARRANT ISSUED

The ICC has issued a warrant against Seif al-Islam Gadhafi for crimes against humanity allegedly committed this year as his father’s security forces cracked down on protesters. The London-educated son, who once mingled with European high society, publicly threatened dissidents.

Moammar Gadhafi’s second-eldest son has remained at large despite a manhunt. The senior Gadhafi and his younger son, Mutassim, were killed last week during the climactic battle for the coastal city of Sirte, their clan’s ancestral home.

Reports indicated that Seif al-Islam Gadhafi escaped earlier this month from Bani Walid, another stronghold of the former regime, before opposition forces overran the town. He has since been variously reported to be in southern Libya’s Saharan expanses and in the neighboring nation of Niger, by some accounts under the protection of Tuareg tribesmen, beneficiaries of his father’s largesse.

There has been speculation that the Gadhafis may have spirited vast amounts of cash, gold and other valuables out of Libya, but no proof has emerged.

Abdullah Sanoussi, longtime chief enforcer for the regime and brother-in-law to the slain leader, also has been reported to be in Niger and elsewhere in Central Africa, where the elder Gadhafi had many allies.

EVENTUAL EXILE A POSSIBILITY

Once the international court case is completed — with either an acquittal or a guilty verdict and a sentence served — the son could request that the judges send him to a nation other than Libya “as long as that country accepts him,” the prosecutor said.

Another surviving Gadhafi son, Saadi Gadhafi, has said the violent deaths of his father and brother demonstrate that no Gadhafi can receive a fair trial in revolutionary Libya.

The country’s new rulers have said the family should be brought back to face justice for corruption and other alleged crimes. Two other Gadhafi sons, his widow and daughter all fled to Algeria.