First step on the path to justice: ICC sentences Al Mahdi to 9 years

Press release
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(Bamako, The Hague) Today, the International Criminal Court sentenced Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, also known as Abou Tourab, to 9 years in prison for his involvement in the destruction of mausoleums in Timbuktu. Our organisations welcome this important verdict, which recognises the impact of such destruction on local residents and the international community as a whole. However, we also call upon the ICC Prosecutor to continue her investigations and to prosecute the perpetrators of other crimes committed in northern Mali, in particular, sexual and gender-based crimes.

“This verdict is a victory for the victims of crimes committed in Mali since 2012, especially for the people of Timbuktu. It sends a strong signal to the perpetrators of war crimes involving the destruction of the cultural heritage, war crimes that seek to destroy the soul of the people, as the judges have acknowledged. This victory does leave something to be desired, however, as we would have liked the charges against Al Mahdi to have been expanded to include crimes committed against people.”

Drissa Traoré, a lawyer and FIDH Vice President

The sentence reflected the gravity of the crimes attributed to Al Mahdi, despite the five mitigating circumstances that were accepted by the Court, including his confession of guilt, cooperation with the Office of the ICC Prosecutor, and regrets expressed to the victims.

The judges recognised that Al Mahdi was a principle perpetrator of these crimes, though he first opposed the destruction of the monuments. He ordered the destruction of the mosques and mausoleums, took charge, and participated in the destruction of five of these monuments, while describing these activities directly to the international media. The judges found that the destruction was motivated by discriminatory religious beliefs upheld by “Hesbah.”

The judges explained that this crime was especially serious because of its impact on the people, as “the buildings targeted were not only of religious character but were also of symbolic and emotional value for the inhabitants of Timbuktu,” who considered them “as a source of protection for Timbuktu.” Since all but one are considered UNESCO World Heritage Sites, their destruction affected the entire Malian population as well as the international community.

“Going beyond the case itself, we recognise the symbolic importance of this verdict: this is the first time that the perpetrator of crimes committed in Mali since 2012 is found guilty and is convicted. This decision thus marks the first important step in the fight against impunity in Mali, where legal proceedings struggle to advance. It is urgent for the Malian authorities to make greater efforts to prosecute the perpetrators of crimes against civilians, and particularly crimes of sexual violence,”

Bakary Camara, AMDH Secretary General who attended the entire trial in The Hague

According to information compiled by FIDH and its member and partner organisations, since 2012, members of the Islamic police, –particularly the “Manners Brigade” (Brigade des mœurs),–have committed crimes against humanity , including assassinations, acts of torture and crimes of sexual violence. In March 2015, our organisations lodged a complaint with the Malian courts on behalf of 33 victims in Timbuktu against Al Mahdi and 14 other persons for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including sexual and gender-based crimes, such as rape and sexual slavery.


In January 2012, Mali faced a Tuareg armed rebellion in the north of the country. The National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA) quickly launched an offensive, which was opportunely joined by Islamist groups present in the Sahel band (Ansar Dine, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Oneness Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Boko Haram). Hostilities were conducted in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.

The main northern cities fell into the hands of armed groups from early April 2012 until January 2013 at which point French Malian troops intervened.

Mali ratified the ICC Statute on 16 August 2000. It referred the situation to the ICC Prosecutor on 13 July 2012. On 16 January 2013, the Office of the Prosecutor formally opened an investigation into possible crimes within its jurisdiction committed in Mali. On 13 February 2013, the Malian government and the ICC signed a cooperation agreement in accordance with Section IX of the Rome Statute. The Pre-Trial Chamber issued the first arrest warrant under seal in the Mali situation against Al Mahdi on 18 September 2015.

One week later, Al Mahdi, who was in custody of Niger authorities, was transferred to the ICC.

On 24 March 2016, the ICC confirmed charges against Al Mahdi for the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against religious and historical buildings in Timbuktu, as a member of the armed extremist group Ansar Dine, affiliated with Al Qaeda. He faced trial from 22 to 24 August, during which he plead guilty to charges of destroying 10 historic buildings, including multiple mausoleums and a mosque. The entire city of Timbuktu is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

According to our investigations conducted in January and February 2015, Ahmad Al Mahdi Al Faqi alias Abu Tourab, a native of the region of Timbuktu, was head of the Hesbah (Brigade des moeurs), and one of the four commanders of Ansar Dine responsible for the brutal imposition of power of jihadist armed groups in Timbuktu.

At the head of the Hesbah, he also endorsed the actions of the “Centre for the implementation of the suitable and prohibition of the blameworthy” (Centre d’application du convenable et de l’interdiction du blâmable). Elements of this group have persecuted women, imprisoning them, and subjecting them to forced marriages. Al Mahdi also sanctioned rape and sexual slavery, directly and by his subordinates. Evidence we have collected also shows him in the process of leading and participating in the destruction of the mausoleums of saints and other Islamic cultural property of great value. After leading the Hesbah in Timbuktu, he likely left to fight against the French and Malian armed forces in Konna in January 2013 before retreating to northern Mali and crossing into Niger where he was arrested by French forces and handed over to Nigerian authorities, and then transferred to the ICC in September 2015.

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