PARIS – The ex-chief of Timbuktu’s Islamic police went on trial Tuesday in The Hague for a number of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanities charges including rape, sexual slavery and destroying irreplaceable shrines in the ancient Malian city.
Wearing a flowing blue gown and white headdress — and a face mask pushed below his nose — Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud replied “yes” to whether he understood each of the 13 charges against him. But on each count, he refused to plead either innocent or guilty.
International Criminal Court prosecutors accuse Al Hassan of rape, torture and sexual slavery, among other atrocities allegedly committed between 2012 and 2013, as Timbuktu’s police chief after jihadists occupied the city.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda described as unimaginable the crimes committed by jihadists in the city. Under Al Hassan, she said, the Islamic police belittled, humiliated and persecuted residents on religious grounds.
Prosecutors argue Al Hassan abused, whipped and tortured Timbuktu residents who violated strict religious laws. He allegedly forced young women and girls to marry jihadist fighters, which the prosecution claims led to rape and sexual enslavement. And he is accused of participating in lashings of men and women — and of playing a role in the destruction of local shrines.
Al Hassan’s defense argues he is not mentally fit to stand trial.
How can somebody who is experiencing such post-traumatic stress that they are dissociating in a way they avoid memories, properly assist council to analyze the evidence—that to date it still hasn’t had the opportunity to even investigate — in order to prepare an adequate defense?”
ICC judges ordered Al Hassan to be medically examined, but ruled the opening would not be delayed.
Al Hassan is the second Islamist to face trial at the ICC over the destruction of Timbuktu’s religious and historical buildings. In 2016, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi pled guilty to attacks on the UNESCO World Heritage site. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.