The International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague today opened its first ever war crimes trial addressing the destruction of cultural heritage.
The Malian jihadi leader Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi stands accused of destroying ancient mausoleums in Timbuktu—including medieval shrines, tombs of Sufi saints, and a 15th century mosque, which were all part of a Unesco World Heritage Site—during the Islamist takeover of Northern Mali in 2012. The mausoleums are currently being rebuilt.
According to the Guardian, Faqi, a local ethnic Tuareg, is said to have been a member of the Islamist group Ansar Dine, as well as the head of Hesbah, which consider the mausoleums, erected as a tribute to deceased saints, to be blasphemous.
In early 2013, Ansar Dine was expelled from the city during a French-led military campaign. As well as the flattened mausoleums, over 4,000 ancient manuscripts were also lost or destroyed during that period.
Faqi was arrested in neighboring Niger and sent to the Netherlands last September, a transfer that chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda celebrated, declaring that the people of Mali “deserve justice for the attacks against their cities, their beliefs and their communities."
“The charges we have brought against Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi involve most serious crimes," Bensouda said then. “They are about the destruction of irreplaceable historic monuments, and they are about a callous assault on the dignity and identity of entire populations, and their religious and historical roots."