Timbuktu extremist on trial for ‘unimaginable crimes’

1 / 2
Malian Islamist militant Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud sits in the courtroom of the ICC (International Criminal Court) during a hearing at the Hague in the Netherlands, July 8, 2019. (Reuters)
2 / 2
In this file photograph taken on April 4, 2018, alleged extremist leader Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud (C) enters the courtroom prior to his initial appearance on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 14 July 2020

Timbuktu extremist on trial for ‘unimaginable crimes’

THE HAGUE: A Malian jihadist police chief committed “unimaginable crimes” during a reign of terror in the fabled shrine city of Timbuktu, prosecutors told the International Criminal Court at the start of his trial Tuesday.
Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, 42, personally oversaw corporal punishments including amputations and floggings while the Malian city was under the control of Islamist militants for almost a year from early 2012, prosecutors said.
Al Hassan — who appeared in court in The Hague wearing a traditional turban, and a face mask to protect against coronavirus — is charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, rape and sexual slavery.
The extremists from the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Eddine groups also destroyed the centuries-old shrines of Timbuktu, a city described as the “pearl of the desert.”
“Today marks the beginning of the long-awaited trial of the unimaginable crimes which have been committed in Mali,” the ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the court.
“Al Hassan was directly involved in the violence and torture inflicted on the men, the women and the children of Timbuktu. He worked in the heart of a repressive, persecuting system.”
The prosecutor said Al Hassan was a key figure in the Islamic police and court system set up by the militants after they exploited an ethnic Tuareg uprising in 2012 to take over cities in Mali’s volatile north.
“Timbuktu the pearl of the desert, whose population had been living in peace for years, was subject to their diktats,” she said, adding that the militants’ aim was to “strike fear into people, to spread terror.”
Al Hassan arrested people, conducted investigations during which suspects were tortured, referred cases to the Islamic court and “participated personally in the meting out of corporal punishment by the police,” Bensouda said.
She said the court would see a video in which a man’s hand is amputated in a public square before the entire population of Timbuktu “in the most brutal way possible, with a type of long knife.”
Al Hassan “totally sanctions this criminal and brutal mutilation,” Bensouda added.
The Islamists are also accused of forcing women and girls to marry militants.
Al Hassan is the second Islamist extremist to face trial at the ICC for the destruction of the Timbuktu shrines, following a landmark 2016 ruling at the world’s only permanent war crimes court.
In the court’s first case to focus on cultural destruction, the ICC judges found Ahmad Al-Faqi Al-Mahdi guilty of directing attacks on the UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.
He was sentenced to nine years in jail.
Built between the fifth and the 12th centuries by Tuareg tribes, Timbuktu has also been dubbed “The City of 333 Saints” who were buried there during the golden age of Islam.
Timbuktu’s tombs were rebuilt after the jihadists were thrown out, but the city remains in the grip of insecurity and tourists who once flocked there are now scarce.


Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

Updated 01 October 2020

Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

  • Senior BJP officials acquitted of conspiracy to destroy historic Muslim place of worship

NEW DELHI: A special court in the northern Indian city of Lucknow on Wednesday acquitted all 32 politicians and senior leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of conspiring to demolish the 16th-century Babri Mosque in 1992, ruling that the move was not “preplanned.”

Muslims described the judgment as “yet another betrayal by the judiciary.”

The BJP under the leadership of then-party president Lal Krishna Advani led a political campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s to build a temple on the site of the disputed 16th-century mosque in the eastern city of Ayodhya, claiming that it was built by the first Mughal ruler Babar. 

On Dec. 6, 1992, in response to a call by BJP leaders, hundreds of Hindu extremists gathered at the disputed site and demolished the mosque, resulting in religious riots across the country that claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Most of the BJP leaders and its affiliates were blamed for razing the Babri Mosque.

However, on Wednesday, Surendra Kumar Yadav, the judge at the special court, said that the demolition of the 500-year-old mosque was not pre-planned.

“They have been acquitted for lack of evidence,” defense lawyer K.K. Mishra said after the verdict.

Muslims reacted to the verdict with disappointment.

“The judgment pronounced by the special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court is wrong. We will appeal in the high court,” Zafaryab Jilani, general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

The BJP was elated with the court’s decision.

“It is a moment of happiness for all of us; we chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Ram) after the court’s verdict. The judgment vindicates my personal and BJP’s belief and commitment toward the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. Along with millions of my countrymen, I now look forward to the completion of the beautiful Shri Ram Mandir (temple) at Ayodhya,” 92-year-old Advani, one of the accused in the case, said.

Another BJP leader and former party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, who was also among the accused, called the judgment “historic.”

“This proves that no conspiracy was hatched for the incident in Ayodhya. Our program and rallies were not part of any conspiracy,” Joshi, 86, said.

The verdict comes 10 months after the Supreme Court’s controversial judgment giving the disputed land to a Hindu trust and awarding five acres of land to Muslim petitioners to build a structure of their choice at another location in the city.

“It’s a betrayal by the court,” Ayodhya-based Hajji Mahboob, one of the original Muslim petitioners, told Arab News.

“So many BJP leaders have claimed openly that they were involved in demolishing the Babri Mosque. If the court gives this kind of one-sided verdict, I can only say that it is compromised,” he said.

“We know that there cannot be any justice for Muslims in this country because all the decisions given by the courts are wrong,” he added.

Reacting to the verdict, the main opposition Congress party said it was “counter to the Supreme Court judgment.” 

The apex court held that the demolition of the Babri mosque was clearly illegal and an “egregious violation of the rule of law.” 

“But the Special Court exonerated all the accused. It is clear that the decision of the Special Court runs counter to the decision of the Supreme Court,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

The demolition of the mosque was “a deep-rooted political conspiracy to destroy the country’s communal amity and brotherhood, and to usurp power at any cost,” he added.

According to Hilal Ahamd, of New Delhi-based think tank Center for the Study of Developing Societies, there is a growing belief among Muslims that India is a Hindu country and “they have to adjust themselves accordingly.”

Meanwhile, former chairman of the minority commission Zafar ul Islam Khan said the verdict will encourage the BJP to take the law into its own hands in the belief that the police and judiciary will protect them.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi political analyst who has written several books on the Hindu right-wing politics, said: “The demolition of the mosque was a criminal offense and the failure to establish guilt after 28 years is unfortunate.”

He described the verdict as “a betrayal for Muslims and risky for the security of the country if its largest minority keeps getting marginalized like this.”