THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — An alleged Islamic extremist charged with being involved in destroying religious buildings in Mali’s historic city of Timbuktu has been arrested and was sent Saturday to the International Criminal Court to face justice.
Ahmad Al Mahdi Al Faqi, known as Abu Tourab, is the first suspect in the court’s custody charged with the war crime of deliberately destroying religious or historical monuments.
“The people of Mali deserve justice for the attacks against their cities, their beliefs and their communities,” the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Nesouda, said in a statement.
She called the 2012 destruction in Timbuktu “a callous assault on the dignity and identity of entire populations, and their religious and historical roots.”
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The entire city of Timbuktu is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. At the peak of its influence in the 15th and 16th centuries, Timbuktu counted 180 schools and universities that received thousands of students from all over the Muslim world.
Islamic radicals who overran Timbuktu in 2012 destroyed 14 of the city’s 16 mausoleums, one-room structures that house the tombs of the city’s great thinkers. The extremists condemned the buildings as totems of idolatry. The 14 mausoleums have since been restored by the United Nations.
Niger sent Al Faqi to the court based on an arrest warrant issued a week ago and he was transferred to The Hague early Saturday. No date was immediately set for his arraignment.
The court said he was a member of Ansar Dine, an Islamic extremist group with links to al-Qaida that ruled across northern Mali in 2012. He is charged in the destruction of 10 historic buildings, including mausoleums and a mosque in Timbuktu.
The militants were driven out after nearly a year by a French military intervention.
El-Boukhari Ben Essayouti, head of Timbuktu’s cultural mission, said that Al Mahdi, who he knows, is not the only person responsible for the destruction of the mausoleums.
“There are also in Timbuktu today others who collaborated in the destruction of the mausoleums. So we do not take this announcement by the ICC as a relief, but rather (as) the start of a trial against the people who destroyed the Timbuktu mausoleums, a UNESCO World Heritage site,” he said Saturday.
“Today’s arrest and surrender signals that there will be a price to pay for destroying the world’s treasures,” said Corrine Dufka of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division.
Mali’s government asked the court in 2012 to investigate crimes committed on its territory. Prosecutors opened an investigation in 2013. Al Faqi is the first suspect detained. The ICC is a court of last resort that steps in when countries are unable or unwilling to prosecute crimes on their territory.
Associated Press writer Baba Ahmed in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.