ICC convicts al-Qaida-linked leader of atrocities in Mali

Prosecutors say he was a key member of Ansar Dine, an Islamic extremist group with links to al-Qaida that held power in northern Mali at the time.
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By AP

Mali

The International Criminal Court on Wednesday convicted an al-Qaida-linked extremist leader of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Mali, notably for abusing prisoners as the de facto chief of 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 torture and cruel treatment between 2012 and 2013 was read out.

Judges continued to read the verdict on the many other charges he faced for his alleged role in a reign of terror insurgents unleashed on Timbuktu, including rape, torture, persecution, enforced marriages and sexual slavery.

Al Hassan faces up to life imprisonment when a sentence is handed down at a later date.

Prosecutors say he was a key member of Ansar Dine, an Islamic extremist group with links to al-Qaida that held power in northern Mali at the time.

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.

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 cancelled elections scheduled for February 2024 indefinitely, citing the need for further technical preparations.

The verdicts in Al Hassan’s case were delayed by some six months due to the illness of one of the judges in his trial.

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