A Malian man accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity has been taken into custody in the Netherlands, the International Criminal Court has announced.
Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, identified by the ICC as the “de facto chief of Islamic Police” during the conflict five years ago, was handed over by Mali’s authorities and transferred to a detention centre in The Hague, the court said on Saturday.
The suspect, who was active in Timbuktu during 2012 and 2013, is accused of using torture, sexual slavery, and persecution on religious grounds, in addition to extrajudicial sentencing, acts of violence, attacks on religious monuments and other war crimes.
The court identified Al Hassan as a member of Ansar Dine, an al-Qaeda-linked armed group that sought to establish strict Islamic law in Mali. Several armed groups were accused of committing human rights abuses when they seized control of northern Mali in 2012.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the case reinforced her office’s “commitment to bring forward cases only guided and built on a strong evidentiary foundation”.
“As we undertake this work, we continue to have the victims foremost in mind and strive to do what we can so that they may attain the justice they so rightly deserve,” she said.
Hundreds of thousands were displaced during the 2012 conflict and the death toll is still unknown.
The Malian government and several armed groups signed a peace agreement in 2015, but fighting has continued.
In 2017, al-Qaeda-linked groups increased attacks and are responsible for several civilian deaths, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). State security forces also committed extrajudicial killings and torture, and enforced civilian disappearances last year, HRW said.
The ICC’s actions come as part of an ongoing investigation into war crimes committed in Mali.
In 2016, the court sentenced former fighter Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi to nine years in prison for destroying historic and religious sites in 2012. Last year, he was ordered to pay $3.2m for damages.