Prosecutors will unveil charges against an alleged Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist accused of destroying monuments at the fabled city of Timbuktu in an unprecedented case before the world’s only permanent war crimes court.
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi will be the first jihadist to appear before the International Criminal Court (ICC), and the first person in its dock facing war crimes charges for allegedly ordering an attack on a historic monument.
Prosecutors will be seeking to convince three judges they have enough evidence to try Faqi, who is about 40, in what will also be the first case brought by the ICC over the extremist violence that rocked the western African nation of Mali from 2012 to 2013.
The two-day hearing at the court in The Hague has been called to confirm the charges against Faqi, before the start of an eventual trial at a later date.
Straddling the southern gateway of the Sahara desert and a protected world heritage site, the mere mention of Timbuktu, which was once a key trading post, evokes centuries of history.
So there was global outcry when jihadists overran it in early 2012, and attacked its ancient earthen mausoleums dating back to the city’s golden age as an economic, intellectual and spiritual centre in the 15th and 16th centuries.
According to the ICC arrest warrant, Faqi is accused of being “responsible individually and jointly with others … for committing war crimes by deliberately attacking” religious and historic monuments between June 30, 2012 and July 10, 2012.