THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – The International Criminal Court said Tuesday it will move forward with a trial against an accused Islamic militant charged with committing war crimes in the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu.
The ICC, a United Nations court, said in a statement that its panel of judges unanimously found “there are substantial grounds” to believe that Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz is responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including torture, rape, and sexual slavery.
The Hague-based court was established by the Rome Statute in 2002 to prosecute genocide and crimes against humanity globally.
Al Hassan is charged with being the enforcer of a separatist Muslim group that banned music, forced women to wear headscarves and destroyed non-Muslim religious sites in the western African country of Mali. Large parts of the country fell to Islamic separatist groups in 2012 following a coup.
As the alleged de facto leader of Timbuktu’s police force, prosecutors say Al Hassan is responsible for the torture, rape and slavery of citizens in the city between April 2012 and January 2013.
During hearings in July to determine if there was enough evidence to bring charges, prosecutors claimed Al Hassan was a senior member of Ansar Dine, an Islamic extremist group with links to al-Qaeda. He is one of the first people to be brought before the global court on gender-related charges.
“The targeting and persecution of women was such that it became emblematic of the physical and moral violence inflicted on all residents of Timbuktu,” ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in her opening statements.
Another man, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, has also been prosecuted in relation to crimes in Mali. He was sentenced by the ICC to nine years in prison in 2016 for destroying religious monuments.
Al Hassan’s defense argued that the trial was really against the system of Islamic law and lead counselor Melinda Taylor asked the court to “release this sardine back into the sea,” implying that her client was too minor of a player to be prosecuted.
The three-judge panel disagreed, though the full decision is confidential and a redacted version is not yet available.
Dates for the trial have not yet been scheduled.