THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — International Criminal Court judges on Monday ordered an alleged jihadi leader from Mali to stand trial on war crimes and crimes against humanity charges.
A pretrial chamber issued a confidential decision confirming charges including torture, rape, sexual slavery and deliberately attacking religious buildings and historic monuments against Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud.
The crimes were allegedly committed in Timbuktu during a brutal occupation of the historic desert city by Islamic extremists from April 2012 until January 2013.
The global court said in a statement that after studying evidence presented by prosecutors the judges concluded that there are “substantial grounds to believe that Mr. Al Hassan is responsible” for the crimes charged.
Prosecutors allege he was a key member of Ansar Dine, an al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist group.
At a hearing in July to assess the strength of the evidence, defense lawyer Melinda Taylor argued that the prosecution case relies heavily on statements Al Hassan made while he was held at an undisclosed location in Mali that she said was notorious for human rights abuses. She said that Al Hassan later told ICC prosecutors he was tortured.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told judges that Al Hassan was the de facto chief of the Islamic police that imposed a brutal regime on Timbuktu residents during Ansar Dine’s occupation.
She said he “played an essential and undeniable role in the system of persecution established by the armed groups throughout the period of occupation of Timbuktu.”
No date was immediately set for Al Hassan’s trial.
The case against Al Hassan is the second at the global court to focus on crimes committed during the occupation of Timbuktu.
A member of Ansar Dine, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, was convicted in 2016 and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for intentionally directing attacks against nine mausoleums and a mosque door in Timbuktu in 2012. Al Mahdi had earlier pleaded guilty and expressed remorse for his role in leading the destruction.
A French-led military operation in 2013 forced Al Hassan and others from power, though elements have continued to stage numerous attacks on Malian and international forces.