International judges ordered the arrest Monday of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for murdering civilians, as NATO warplanes pounded his Tripoli compound and world leaders stepped up calls for him to end his four-decade rule.

The International Criminal Court said Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and his intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi are wanted for orchestrating the killing, injuring, arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the first 12 days of an uprising to topple Gadhafi from power, and for trying to cover up the alleged crimes.

The warrants turn the three men into internationally wanted suspects, potentially complicating efforts to mediate an end to more than four months of intense fighting in the North African nation.

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Moammar Gadhafi prepares for a game of chess in Tripoli on June 12. The International Criminal Court at The Hague has issued an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity. (FIDE/Associated Press)

The warrants will be sent to Libya, where Gadhafi remained defiantly entrenched. But when the UN Security Council ordered the court to investigate the bloodshed in Libya, it also urged all nations and regional organizations to co-operate with the court.

'The ICC has no legitimacy whatsoever. We will deal with it.'—Libya spokesman Moussa Ibrahim

Presiding judge Sanji Monageng of Botswana called Gadhafi the "undisputed leader of Libya" who had "absolute, ultimate and unquestioned control" over his country's military and security forces. She said there were "reasonable grounds to believe" that Gadhafi and his son are both responsible for the murder and persecution of civilians.

Libyan officials rejected the court's authority even before the decision was read in The Hague, accusing the court of unfairly targeting Africans while ignoring what they called crimes committed by NATO in Afghanistan, Iraq "and in Libya now."

Increasing isolation

"The ICC has no legitimacy whatsoever. We will deal with it. … All of its activities are directed at African leaders," government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters Sunday.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the court's decision highlighted the increasing isolation of the regime.

"It reinforces the reason for NATO's mission to protect the Libyan people from Gadhafi's forces," he said Monday, adding that the Libyan leader and his supporters need to realize that "time is rapidly running out for them."

NATO air forces have been conducting daily air strikes against military targets in Libya for the past 100 days. The bombing campaign, which doesn't appear to have significantly weakened Gadhafi's grip on power, has drawn increasing international criticism.

In Tripoli, two loud explosions shook the area near Gadhafi's compound Monday, setting off a chorus of emergency sirens.

Libyan officials said a NATO airstrike fired two missiles targeting Gadhafi's personal bus inside his Bab al-Aziziya compound. The bus was burned but no one was killed or injured, they said. Gadhafi is not believed to be staying at the compound.

All legitimacy lost

A coalition including France, Britain and the United States began striking Gadhafi's forces under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians on March 19. NATO assumed control of the air campaign over Libya on March 31 and is joined by a number of Arab allies.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the warrants "demonstrate why Gadhafi has lost all legitimacy and why he should go immediately. His forces continue to attack Libyans without mercy and this must stop."

In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said "after 41 years of dictatorship, it is perhaps time to stop, for him to leave power."

The Foreign Ministry of Italy, Libya's former colonial ruler, said the arrest warrants confirmed that Gadhafi had "lost all legitimacy, political and moral" in both his own country and the international scene. "As such, he can have no role to play in Libya's future," it said.

Monageng said evidence presented by prosecutors showed that following popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Gadhafi and his inner circle plotted a "state policy … aimed at deterring and quelling by any means — including by the use of lethal force — the demonstrations by civilians against the regime."

Hundreds of civilians were killed, injured or arrested, she said.

Prosecutors at the court said the three suspects should be arrested quickly "to prevent them covering up ongoing crimes and committing new crimes."

Hard lessons learned

"This is the only way to protect civilians in Libya," said the statement from the office of Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

In London on Monday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao warned that military action alone won't resolve the crisis in Libya, and said his nation backed attempts to reach a political solution in the North African nation.

"Foreign troops may be able to win war in a place, but they can hardly win peace. Hard lessons have been learned from what has happened in the Middle East and Afghanistan," Wen told reporters at a press conference.

It's unclear how the warrant could restrict Gadhafi's travels within Africa, since many African states are not ICC signatories and others have declined to act on an ICC arrest warrant for another African leader, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The Sudanese leader was on his way to China at Beijing's invitation when the warrant was announced for Gadhafi.

The African Union has said al-Bashir's arrest would dangerously imperil the fragile peace process in Sudan and had asked the UN to defer the warrant for one year. The AU's host country of Ethiopia is not an ICC member.

Gadhafi regularly attends AU summits. The AU will hold a summit later this week in Equatorial Guinea, which is not an ICC member.