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Rule of LawMali

ICC convicts al-Qaida-linked leader of war crimes in Mali

June 26, 2024

Al Hassan Mahmoud was convicted of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during Islamist militants' one-year rule over Timbuktu in 2012. His crimes against women were particularly marked.

l Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mahmoud looks on as he attends his trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands on May 9, 2022.
Charges against Al Hassan included torture, rape and sexual slavery, as well as destroying religious and historic buildingsImage: Piroschka Van De Wouw/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday issued a guilty verdict in the case of an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity during an alleged reign of terror in Mali.

Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud will be sentenced at a later date, but the crimes he is convicted of could amount to life imprisonment. The charges brought against him included torture, rape and sexual slavery, as well as destroying religious and historic buildings.

The crimes are believed to have taken place when al-Qaeda-linked insurgents, a group known as Ansar Dine, took over the Malian ancient city of Timbuktu in early 2012 for almost a year.

Malian Islamist convicted of destroying Timbuktu shrines - DW's Catherine Martens in Den Haag

What was Al Hassan accused of?

Prosecutors accused Al Hassan of personally overseeing amputations and floggings while he served as police chief during Ansar Dine's reign over Timbuktu. Citizens of the historic city, once dubbed the "Pearl of the Desert," are said to have lived in fear of "despicable" violence.

Other charges brought against Al Hassan included overseeing cutting peoples' hands off. Then-chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda spoke of one such case during the trial, describing the amputation of a man accused of petty theft.

"He was tied to a chair... and his hand was chopped off with a machete. A member of the armed group then held up his hand as a signal to others," Bensouda said.

Explainer: Why the ICC found Mali's Islamist guilty

Al Hassan was accused of particularly targeting women, Bensouda said.

"Many were forced into marriage," she told the court. "Confined against their will and repeatedly raped by members of the armed group."

Al Hassan was involved in organizing such marriages, the prosecutor told judges. She cited one rape victim as saying, "All that was left of me was a corpse."

Prosecutors also accused Al Hassan of flogging women accused of adultery.

Mali under Islamist insurgents

Militants from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Dine exploited northern Mali's 2012 ethnic Tuareg uprising, seizing control of Malian cities, including Timbuktu.

They were driven out by a 2013 French-led military operation. However, the dent of their rule lasted much longer.

Residents remain haunted by the fear and violence they experienced. Insurgents also destroyed some of Timbuktu's iconic shrines, which they deemed idolatrous.

Mali has remained embroiled in an Islamist insurgency, alongside its neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger, for over a decade. The three West African countries have recently come under the rule of military juntas following coups.

Al Hassan's case echoed that of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, another Ansar Dine member the ICC sentenced to nine years in prison in 2016 for destroying religious sanctuaries in Timbuktu, inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage list. The sentence was reduced to two years on appeal in 2021.

The people of Timbuktu react to Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi's guilty plea

rmt/sms (AFP, AP)