This week’s confirmation of charges hearings against Malian rebel leader Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi represents the first time that a member of an Islamist armed group is facing charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
It is also the first case of an individual facing, as a main charge, a war crime allegation involving the destruction of religious or historic monuments at the ICC. (Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda has been charged with the same crime as part of the 18 charges he faces at the ICC.)
Al Faqi is alleged to have participated in, helped in planning and directed attacks on eight mausoleums and the door of a mosque in Timbuktu, Mali between June 20, 2012 and July 11, 2012, according to the prosecution’s charging document.
Al Faqi is alleged to have done this while he was the head of the Hesbah Brigade, a group that monitored and enforced a strict code of public morality in Timbuktu. This ancient city was then under the control of and administered by two Islamist armed groups, the Ansar Eddine and the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb. The two groups controlled Timbuktu until January 2013.
Timbuktu is listed by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site because of its centuries-old rich history that includes the site of some of the oldest learning institutions in Africa and mausoleums of Sufi saints. These mausoleums were considered idolatrous by Ansar Eddine and the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb.
The buildings Al Faqi is alleged to have been involved in attacking are: the Sidi Mahamoud Ben Omar Mohamed Aquit Mausoleum; the Sheikh Mohamed Mahmoud Al Arawani Mausoleum; the Sheikh Sidi El Mokhtar Ben Sidi Mouhammad Al Kabir Al Kounti Mausoleum; the Alpha Moya Mausoleum; the Sheikh Mouhamad El Micky Mausoleum; the Sheikh Abdoul Kassim Attouaty Mausoleum; the Sheikh Sidi Ahmed Ben Amar Arragadi Mausoleum; the door of the Sidi Yahia Mosque; and the Bahaber Babadié Mausoleum and the Ahamed Fulane Mausoleum, both adjoining the Djingareyber Mosque.
According to the prosecution’s charging document, all of these buildings are protected World Heritage Sites, except the Sheikh Mohamed Mahmoud Al Arawani Mausoleum.
The government of Mali referred the situation in northern Mali to the ICC in a letter dated July 13, 2012. The prosecution opened an investigation in the situation on January 16, 2013. Pre-Trial Chamber I issued a warrant of arrest (in French) for Al Faqi on September 28, 2015.
The Open Society Justice Initiative’s briefing on the case is available here.