Ahmad Al-Faqi Al-Mahdi was born approximately in 1975, in the village of Agoune, 100 km west from Timbuktu in Mali. Since 2011, Al Mahdi worked for the Malian government as a civil servant in the education department.
In January 2012, a civil war broke out between independentist groups and the Government of Mali. In early April 2012, following the retreat of Malian armed forces, the groups Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) took control of Timbuktu. From then until January 2013, Ansar Dine and AQIM imposed their religious and political edicts on the territory of Timbuktu and its people. They did so through a local government, which included an Islamic tribunal, an Islamic police force, a media commission and a morality brigade established to uphold virtue and prevent vice called the ‘Hisbah’.
Until September 2012, Al Mahdi was the head of the ‘Hisbah’. He was also associated with the work of the Islamic Court of Timbuktu and involved in the execution of its decisions.
From 30 June 2012 through 11 July 2012, a series of attacks against at least nine mausoleums and two great mosques listed in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation World Heritage List in the city of Timbuktu were conducted by members of Islamist groups. The sites subject to the attacks included:
- the Sidi Mahamoud Ben Omar Mohamed Aquit Mausoleum;
- the Sheikh Mohamed Mahmoud Al Arawani Mausoleum;
- the Sheikh Sidi El Mokhtar Ben Sidi Mouhammad Al Kabir Al Kounti Mausoleum;
- the Alpha Moya Mausoleum;
- the Sheikh Mouhamad El Mikki Mausoleum;
- the Sheikh Abdoul Kassim Attouaty Mausoleum;
- the Sheikh Sidi Ahmed Ben Amar Arragadi Mausoleum;
- the door of the Sidi Yahia Mosque;
- the two mausoleums adjoining the Djingareyber Mosque.