Malian jihadist in court for war crimes on Wednesday

The Hague (AFP) - A Malian jihadist will make a first appearance Wednesday before the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges over the destruction of holy sites and sex slavery, the tribunal said.

Malian jihadist in court for war crimes on Wednesday

Malian jihadist in court for war crimes on Wednesday

Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud "will be informed of the charges against him" at the hearing, the Hague-based ICC said in a statement on Tuesday.

During the initial appearance, scheduled for 1300 GMT at the court's fortress-like headquarters, judges are to verify Al-Hassan's identity and the language in which he'll be able to follow procedures.

Al-Hassan, 40, was arrested over the weekend and handed over by Malian authorities. He arrived at the ICC's detention centre late Saturday.

He faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the destruction of the holy shrines of Timbuktu between 2012 and 2013 as well as accusations of rape and forced marriage.

Al-Hassan's arrest came four days after the court issued an international warrant for his capture.

- 'Great relief' -

Prosecutors allege that he "committed crimes against humanity and war crimes in Timbuktu, Mali, between April 2012 and January 2013."

A member of the Ansar Dine jihadist group, Al-Hassan was the "de facto chief of the Islamic police" in Timbuktu, the ICC said.

Hassan allegedly "participated in the policy of forced marriages which victimised the female inhabitants of Timbuktu and led to repeated rapes and the sexual enslavement of women and girls," the court added.

His detention "sends a strong message to all those, wherever they are, who commit crimes which shock the conscience of humanity that my office remains steadfast in the pursuit of its mandate," chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said shortly after his transfer to the ICC.

"The charges against him are representative of the criminality and resulting victimisation of the population during this period," Bensouda added.

Rights groups Tuesday hailed his arrest, with the International Federation for Human Rights calling it a "great relief" to victims.

"This is especially when the situation in the centre and north, including in Timbuktu, deteriorates with the resurgence of violence attributed to armed groups of terrorists," the victims' lawyer Moctar Mariko said.

- Forced marriages -

Al-Hassan will be the second Islamic extremist to face trial at the ICC, following an earlier landmark ruling at the world's only permanent war crimes court.

War crimes judges in 2016 jailed another Malian who had pleaded guilty to demolishing Timbuktu's fabled shrines in 2012.

That was the court's first case to focus on cultural destruction as a war crime.

The ICC's judges found Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi guilty of directing attacks on the UNESCO world heritage site during the jihadist takeover of northern Mali in 2012.

Mahdi was sentenced to nine years behind bars in September 2016 for his role in the razing of Timbuktu's holy shrines, built in the 15th and 16th centuries when the city was revered as a centre of Islamic learning.

For extremists however, its moderate form of Islam is seen as idolatrous.

Hassan, a member of the Tuareg tribe, however has been further charged with "persecution on both religious and gender grounds; rape and sexual slavery committed in the context of forced marriages; torture and other inhuman acts," the court said.

The ICC opened in 2002 to try the world's worst crimes in places where national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute alleged perpetrators.

The landmark 2016 verdict by the ICC against Mahdi was the first arising out of the conflict in Mali, and the first time a jihadist had sat in the dock at the court.

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