An alleged Islamic extremist charged with being involved in the destruction of religious buildings in Timbuktu has been arrested and sent to the International Criminal Court to face justice.
Ahmad Al Mahdi Al Faqi, known as Abu Tourab, is the first suspect in the Netherlands court’s custody charged with the war crime of destroying religious or historical monuments.
He is charged in connection with the destruction of 10 historic buildings including mausoleums and a mosque in Mali’s historic city in 2012.
Al Faqi was surrendered to the court by Niger based on an arrest warrant issued a week ago and transferred to The Hague. No date was immediately set for his arraignment.
He was a member of Ansar Dine, an Islamic extremist group with links to al Qaida that ruled across northern Mali in 2012, the court said in a statement.
Timbuktu is listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco. At the peak of its influence in the 15th and 16th centuries, the city counted 180 schools and universities which 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 militants were driven out after nearly a year by a French military intervention.
Fourteen mausoleums destroyed in 2012 have since been restored by the United Nations.
Prosecutors say Al Faqi was linked to an Islamic court set up by extremists in Timbuktu and participated in carrying out its orders.
Mali’s government asked the court in 2012 to investigate crimes committed on its territory. Prosecutors opened an investigation in 2013 and 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.