Militant faces charges of destroying Timbuktu sites

THE HAGUE • An Islamist leader allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda has been handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges of aiding the destruction of Mali's fabled city of Timbuktu, in the first such case before the tribunal.

Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi was detained under an ICC arrest warrant issued last week and handed over by the authorities in Niger, the court said in a statement last Saturday. The details of his arrest were not immediately clear.

He is suspected of war crimes allegedly committed in Timbuktu between June 30 and July 10 in 2012, "through intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion and/or historical monuments", the statement said.

Faqi's is the first case to be brought before the court for the destruction of religious buildings and historical monuments. It is also the first case to be brought before the ICC - the world's only permanent war crimes court - for the unrest that has racked the west African nation of Mali.

Faqi, also known Abu Tourab, is suspected of deliberately destroying buildings at a Unesco-listed desert heritage site in 2012.

Called the "City of 333 Saints", Timbuktu, around 1,000km north-east of Mali's capital Bamako, was attacked for months by Islamist militants.

In June 2012, militants linked to Al-Qaeda destroyed 16 of the northern 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 group linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and one of the groups that briefly took control of Mali's vast arid north in 2012.

In his role as part of the Islamic Court of Timbuktu, Faqi is alleged to have jointly ordered or carried out the destruction of nine of the mausoleums, as well as the Sidi Yahia mosque.

The mausoleums were constructed to pay homage to deceased saints who were regarded as pious, great humanists and scholars of their time - but were considered blasphemous by the militants.

Around 4,000 manuscripts were also lost, stolen or burned during the Islamist takeover, and 10,000 manuscripts were discovered in unsuitable storage conditions.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 27, 2015, with the headline 'Militant faces charges of destroying Timbuktu sites'. Print Edition | Subscribe