Islamist to Stand Trial at ICC for Destruction of Timbuktu Heritage

An Islamist extremist who destroyed historical artifacts in the Malia city of Timbuktu will stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Ahmad al Faqi al-Mahdi was arrested in Niger after a warrant was put out by the ICC. Niger subsequently handed him over.

He is being prosecuted for his role in the destruction of nine mausoleums. He is suspected to have been the head of the hesbah, or the morality police and in that capacity carried out decisions of the sharia courts, including vandalism.

In 2012 the Islamist group Ansar Dine, which has connections to Al-Qaeda, destroyed the tombs of Muslim Sufi saints and at least one mosque, saying, "The destruction is a divine order.” Timbuktu was an extremely important Islamic center from the 13th to the 17th centuries, and much of its heritage had been preserved until the Islamists took the city.

Timbuktu is a UNESCO world heritage site. UNESCO estimated that half of the cities shrines to saints were  “destroyed in a display of fanaticism.” They also destroyed tens of thousands of manuscripts.

The group were driven out of Timbuktu by French forces in 2013.

The ICC commented that this was the first instance of a prosecution “concerning the destruction of buildings dedicated to religion and historical monuments.”

The opening statements began today, in which the charges were read out.