Malian extremist on trial at ICC over Timbuktu destruction

THE HAGUE (AFP) – The trial of a Malian extremist accused of demolishing Timbuktu’s fabled shrines and unleashing a reign of terror began at the International Criminal Court yesterday.

Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, 42, has been charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and slavery. The charges cover a period when fundamentalists exploited an ethnic Tuareg uprising in 2012 to take over cities in Mali’s volatile north.

Prosecutors at the tribunal in The Hague will give their opening statement against the man they described in pre-trial hearings as having “terrorised” local residents. The defence and the legal representatives of alleged victims will deliver their statements at a later date when evidence is presented to the court. Because of the coronavirus pandemic some participants in the trial will take part remotely, and it was unclear whether Al Hassan would personally be in court.

ICC prosecutors said there were “substantial grounds” to convict Al Hassan for “crimes against humanity… torture, slavery (and) other inhumane acts”.

“Al Hassan played an essential and undeniable role in the system of persecution established by the armed groups… in Timbuktu,” ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said last year. The extremist police imposed draconian measures on the city’s residents who lived in constant fear of “despicable” violence and repression, prosecutors said.