Ahmad al-Mahdi al-Faqi AKA Abu Tourab, a former member of militant group Ansar Dine, was turned over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague by authorities in Niger Sept. 26, accused of war crimes allegedly committed in Timbuktu, Mali, including destruction of religious and historical monuments. He is charged in the destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque in the historic city in 2012, when an alliance of jihadist militias including Ansar Dine was in control of northern Mali. The entire city of Timbuktu, known as the "City of 333 Saints," is a UNESCO-listed world heritage site. El-Boukhari Ben Essayouti, head of the Timbuktu Cultural Mission, said that al-Mahdi was but one militant who took part in the destruction, and called for his accomplices to be similarly brought to justice. (AFP, BBC News, AP, ICC press release, Sept. 26)
Jihadists were in control of Timbuktu from June 2012 to January 2013. Although many of the jihadists (including al-Mahdi) were themselves Tuaregs, their destruction of Sufi shrines, revered in the local "folk Islam," alienated them from the big majority of the Tuareg population. Upon being driven from Timbuktu by a French-led intervention force, the jihadists torched a library containing rare Islamic manuscripts. Tuareg rebels have also called for an ICC investigation of war crimes by Malian government forces in what became a three-way conflict between jihadists, secular Tuareg rebels and French-backed government forces.