By Emanuele del Rosso
Everyone in the room was literally holding their breath while the curtain was slowly raised, revealing for the first time the face of Ahmad Al Mahdi Al Faqi in Courtroom 2 of the International Criminal Court yesterday morning.
He is the first suspect to be brought before the ICC on charges of violating Article 8(b)(ix) of the Rome Statute, that is, of committing war crimes by intentionally directing attacks against cultural properties, acts that he allegedly committed in Mali.
Up until yesterday, Al Mahdi’s picture was nowhere to be found, and only a few details of his life had been revealed. So, when that curtain was raised, everyone in the public gallery stared at the far left of the courtroom to finally find out who this man is.
Ahmad Al Mahdi Al Faqi, with his black beard, dark hair and thin spectacles, was sitting behind his lawyers, leaning forward and listening attentively to Judge Cuno Tarfusser. His blue-navy suit looked slightly too big and his right hand was clutched in a fist.
When he was asked to, he stood up and introduced himself as a 40-year-old teacher from Agoune – nearly 100 kilometres from Timbuktu, the capital of Mali – and “a servant in education in the Malian government since 2011”. He also said that he would prefer to be addressed in Arabic.
What happened in Mali
According to the Office of the Prosecutor, Al Mahdi took active part in the occupation of Timbuktu, during the 2012 Malian unrest. He allegedly was a member of Ansar Dine, a Tuareg extremist militia, which reportedly has links with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
He worked closely with the leaders of the armed group and, because of this, he is suspected of having been at the head of the “Hesbah” operation to enforce sharia, the strict Islamic law, in Timbuktu. Moreover, and more importantly regarding the crimes he is accused of, he allegedly was involved in the destruction of several buildings of historic and religious value.
“It is rightly said that cultural heritage is the mirror of humanity,” Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the Court. “Such attacks affect humanity as a whole”, she added.
Emanuele del Rosso is a journalist and cartoonist for Justice Hub.
(Photo: Robin van Lonkhuijzen/EPA)