Malian militant faces war crimes judge

  • 01/10/2015
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi (Reuters)
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi (Reuters)

An alleged Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant accused of ordering the destruction of treasured monuments in Mali's fabled city of Timbuktu will appear before judges at the International Criminal Court.

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi is due in the dock on Wednesday (local time) on his first appearance in The Hague-based court after being handed over by authorities in Mali's neighbour Niger on Saturday.

The case is the first to be brought by the world's only permanent war crimes court over the extremist violence that rocked Mali in 2012 and 2013.

Faqi, a Tuareg leader also known as Abu Tourab, is suspected of war crimes for the deliberate destruction of buildings at a UNESCO-listed desert heritage site in 2012.

Nicknamed the "City of 333 Saints", Timbuktu, which is located about 1000 kilometres northeast of Mali's capital Bamako, was overrun by Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in 2012.

In June of that year, the militants destroyed more than a dozen of the city's mausoleums dating back to its golden age as an economic, intellectual and spiritual centre in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Faqi was a leader of Ansar Dine, a mainly Tuareg group, which held sway over Mali's desert north, together with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and a third local group, until being routed in a French-led intervention in January 2013.

Born in Agoune, 100 kilometres west of Timbuktu, Faqi is described by the ICC as having been "an active personality in the context of the occupation of Timbuktu" as the alleged leader of the "Hesbah" anti-vice squad.

A member of an Islamic court set up by the jihadists to enforce strict sharia law, he is alleged to have jointly ordered or carried out the destruction of nine mausoleums and Timbuktu's famous Sidi Yahia mosque.

The mausoleums were constructed to pay homage to deceased saints but were considered blasphemous by the jihadists.

Around 4000 ancient manuscripts were also lost, stolen or burned during the Islamists' reign of terror.