Jihadist to face ICC in August for Timbuktu attack

1st June 2016, Comments 0 comments

A Malian jihadist will go on trial in August for attacking the World Heritage site of Timbuktu which triggered a global outcry, the International Criminal Court said Wednesday.

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi will appear before judges on August 22 for a hearing which is likely to last a few days with the tribunal hoping "to complete the trial in a single week," The Hague-based court said in a statement.

Mahdi has made clear "his wish to plead guilty" to a single charge of jointly ordering or carrying out the 2012 destruction of nine mausoleums and a section of Timbuktu's famous Sidi Yahia mosque which dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries, the ICC said.

It will be the first time a defendant has pleaded guilty before the ICC, which was set up in 2002 to try the world's worst crimes.

It is also the first case before the tribunal to arise out of recent conflict in Mali and to involve an Islamic jihadist.

Mahdi, who is aged around 40, said he was "a Muslim who believes in justice," his defence lawyer Mohamed Aouini told a hearing last week.

"He wants to be truthful to himself and he wants to admit the acts that he has committed. And he wants to ask at the same time for pardon from the people of Timbuktu and the Malian people," Aouini said.

"He regrets all the actions that he has committed."

ICC prosecutors say Mahdi was a leader of Ansar Dine, a mainly Tuareg group that controlled areas of Mali's northern desert together with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and a third local group in early 2012.

Founded between the 5th and the 12th centuries by Tuareg tribes, the fabled city -- which lies around a thousand kilometres (600 miles) from Mali's capital Bamako -- has been dubbed the "Pearl of the Desert" and "the city of 333 saints" for the Muslim sages who are buried there.

It was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 1988.

- 'World felt the loss' -

Although it was revered as a centre of Islamic learning during its golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries, the site is viewed as idolatrous by the jihadists.

For centuries people, would ask the Muslim saints buried in the tombs to intervene in marriages, to send rain, and prevent famines.

During the 2012 attack, jihadists desecrated the centuries-old shrines using pickaxes and chisels.

Chief ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said the loss of the shrines "was felt by the whole of humanity, and at the expense of future generations".

Reconstruction of some of the shrines began in March 2014, relying heavily on traditional methods and employing local masons, and work on the site finished in July 2015.

Mali's north has seen repeated violence since it fell under the control of Tuareg-led rebels who allied with jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012.

The Islamists were largely ousted by an ongoing French-led military operation launched in January 2013, but they have since carried out sporadic attacks on security forces from desert hideouts.

© 2016 AFP

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