ICC convicts al-Qaida-linked leader of abusing prisoners in Mali | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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ICC convicts al-Qaida-linked leader of abusing prisoners in Mali

Exterior of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Original Publication Date June 25, 2024 - 11:56 PM

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court on Wednesday convicted an al-Qaida-linked extremist leader of the religious persecution and torture of prisoners in Mali in 2012-13 when he headed the Islamic police in the historic desert city of Timbuktu.

Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud sat stoically while the decision finding him guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity was read out at the court in the Dutch city of The Hague. He faces up to life in prison when the sentence is decided at a later date.

Al Hassan was acquitted of several charges focusing on the abuse of women. The three-judge panel found that rape and sexual slavery did occur while Al Hassan's group controlled Timbuktu, but that Al Hassan couldn’t be connected to those crimes.

The court found the 47-year old Malian was a key member of Ansar Dine, an Islamic extremist group with links to al-Qaida that held power at the time.

“The inhabitants had no other choice than to adapt their lives and lifestyle to the version of Sharia law imposed on them by Ansar Dine,” presiding judge Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua said, speaking in French.

Judges agreed there was sufficient evidence to convict Al Hassan of charges including torture, outrages upon personal dignity and cruel treatment. They found that prisoners were abused by being kept in tiny, disgusting cells and repeatedly flogged.

“Al Hassan himself inflicted at least 34 and 37 lashes" on two male victims, the Congolese judge said.

Defense lawyer Melinda Taylor told judges during the trial that Al Hassan's position in the Islamic police force obliged him to respect and carry out decisions made by an Islamic tribunal. "This is what the police around the world do," Taylor said.

Women and girls suffered in particular under Ansar Dine’s repressive regime, facing corporal punishment and imprisonment, the court’s then-chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said at the start of Al Hassan’s trial nearly four years ago.

In Timbuktu, victims of Ansar Dine crimes were hoping for compensation, which would likely come only after sentencing. “We are waiting and hoping for a judgment that will give us justice,” said Yehia Hamma Cissé, president of a group of victims’ associations in the Timbuktu region.

The court made a reparation order following the 2016 conviction of another Ansar Dine member, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi. He was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for attacking nine mausoleums and a mosque door in Timbuktu in 2012.

A French-led military operation in 2013 forced Al Hassan and others from power.

Mali, along with its neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger, has for over a decade battled an insurgency fought by armed groups, including some allied with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. Following military coups in all three nations in recent years, the ruling juntas have expelled French forces and turned to Russia’s mercenary units for security assistance instead.

Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge in Mali after a second coup in 2021, promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024. But in September, the junta canceled elections scheduled for February 2024 indefinitely, citing the need for further technical preparations.

The pronouncement of the verdict in Al Hassan's case was delayed by nearly six months after the presiding judge fell ill in January.

Last week, the court unsealed an arrest warrant for another Malian man accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Iyad Ag Ghaly, also known as Abou Fadl, is suspected of leading Ansar Dine and prosecutors have charged him with murder, rape, sexual slavery and persecution of women and girls on gender grounds.

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Associated Press journalist Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali, and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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