Timbuktu mausoleum destruction suspect in court
An alleged Islamic radical charged with involvement in the 2012 destruction of historic mausoleums and a mosque in Timbuktu made his first appearance at the International Criminal Court on Wednesday.
Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, who was sent to the court over the weekend, confirmed his identity at the hearing and told Judge Cuno Tarfusser he was about 40 years old and a civil servant in Mali.
He wasn’t required to enter a plea and made no comment on the charges when Tarfusser gave him the opportunity. Tarfusser said a hearing would be held Jan. 18 to assess if evidence against Al Mahdi is strong enough to merit putting him on trial.
Al Mahdi is the first suspect in the court’s custody charged with the war crime of deliberately attacking religious or historical monuments.
The entire city of Timbuktu in Mali, a historic center of Islamic learning, is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Islamic radicals overran the city in 2012 and destroyed 14 of Timbuktu’s 16 mausoleums, one-room structures that house the tombs of the city’s great thinkers. The extremists condemned the buildings as totems of idolatry. The 14 mausoleums have since been restored by the United Nations.
The ICC said it issued an arrest warrant for Al Mahdi on Sept. 18 and he was sent to the court over the weekend by authorities in Niger. But the court hasn’t said anything about the circumstances of his arrest.
Rights groups welcomed Al Mahdi’s arrest, but urged prosecutors to file more charges against him.
In a statement, a group of human rights organizations said that they filed a criminal complaint in Mali earlier this year against Al Mahdi and 14 other people, accusing them of crimes including rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage.
“So we do believe that it is very important for the office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to take into account the credible evidence that has been provided within the national system,” said Carrie Comer of the International Federation for Human Rights.
A picture taken on May 2, 2010 shows the Islamic center and a mosque in Timbuktu, Mali.