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ICC opens first war crimes hearing for destruction of religious or cultural heritage

[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] in The Hague opened the confirmation of charges against Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi for destruction of religious and cultural heritage on Tuesday. The charges levied against Al Faqi, an alleged member of Islamic terrorist group, Ansar Dine [BBC backgrounder], and an important figure in the occupation of Timbuktu, signal what appears to be the first ever war crimes trial addressing attacks against cultural heritage. Specifically, the charges [transcript, PDF] state that Al Faqi is criminally responsible, either himself or through his assistance, for "intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion and/or historical monuments in Timbuktu," including nine mausoleums and the Sidi Yahia Mosque. According to Regulation 53 [materials] of the Court, the Pre-Trial Chamber must deliver its decision to either confirm or deny that the prosecutor has established a reasonable grounds to prosecute Al Faqi within 60 days of the end of the confirmation hearing.

Al Faqi was turned over [JURIST report] to the ICC by Nigerian authorities in September pursuant to an arrest warrant issued earlier that month. In 2012 this investigation into the terrorist attacks was encouraged by the Malian Justice Minister Malick Couliably after the ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated [JURIST reports] that the attacks in Mali would not be tolerated and would be considered war crimes. Much of the turmoil associated with the current situation in Mali arose [BBC report] from the president of Mali's removal from office and the military take over of the government by the Taureg rebels earlier in 2012.

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