Timbuktu’s jihadist police chief before ICC for war crimes

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The former police chief was handed over to the ICC by Mali’s authorities in 2018

The war crimes trial of the former head of the Islamic police in the Malian city of Timbuktu has started at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud headed the Islamic police when it was under the control of Islamist militants for seven months in 2012.

He has been charged in The Hague with war crimes, crimes against humanity, rape and sexual slavery.

Women and girls were allegedly forced to marry militants.

The Islamic police commanders are also believed to have ordered the destruction of historic monuments and buildings dedicated to Islam.

Mr Abdoul Aziz was handed over to the ICC in 2018 by the Malian authorities.

Residents ‘terrorised’

Prosecutors accuse him of being a key member of Ansar Dine, the militants who occupied Timbuktu in May 2012 – one of several Islamist groups to exploit an ethnic Tuareg uprising at the time to take over cities in northern Mali.

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Tombs at the Djingareyber mosque in Timbuktu were smashed by Islamist militants in 2012

They imposed strict Islamic rule in Timbuktu – prosecutors at pre-trial hearings said Mr Abdoul Aziz had “terrorised” local residents, the AFP news agency reports.

Many Muslim shrines were also destroyed during Ansar Dine’s rule, which lasted until January 2013 when 4,000 French troops were deployed to help Mali’s army fight back against the militants who were pushing south.

Timbuktu is famous for its distinctive mud and wood architecture. It was a centre of Islamic learning between the 13th and 17th centuries and was added to the Unesco world heritage list in 1988.

But Islamists regard the shrines and the city’s ancient manuscripts, covering everything from history to astronomy, as idolatrous.

Mr Abdoul Aziz is only the second person to face trial at the court over his actions during the devastating war in Mali.

The other man, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi pleaded guilty in 2016 to destroying nine mausoleums and a mosque, in the first case of cultural desecration heard by the ICC.

He was jailed for nine years, after declaring he was “really sorry” for his actions and asking for forgiveness.

In 2017 ICC judges found him liable for nearly €3m (£2.6m; $3,6m) in damages.