Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi

09.05.2016 ( Last modified: 17.01.2018 )


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.

legal procedure

On 13 July 2012, the Malian Government referred ‘the Situation in Mali since January 2012’ to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

On 16 January 2013, the ICC Prosecutor opened a formal investigation in Mali.

On 18 September 2015, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I issued an arrest warrant against Al Mahdi Al Faqi, and indicted him for the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against historical monuments and including nine mausoleums and one mosque in Timbuktu, Mali, between about 30 June 2012 and 10 July 2012. Such alleged crime was found by the Court to have been taken place in the context of a non-international armed conflict.

On 26 September 2015, Al Mahdi was surrendered to the ICC by Niger’s authorities and transferred to the ICC Detention Centre in the Netherlands.

On 24 March 2016, ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I confirmed against Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi the war crime charge regarding the destruction of historical and religious monuments in Timbuktu (Mali), and committed Al Mahdi to trial before ICC Trial Chamber VIII.

On 22 August 2016, the trial against Al Mahdi commenced before ICC Trial Chamber VIII. Al Mahdi pleaded guilty to the war crime of destructing historical and religious monuments.

On 27 September 2016, ICC Trial Chamber VIII found Al Mahdi guilty as a co-perpetrator for the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion, and sentenced him to 9 years of imprisonment.

On 17 August 2017, ICC Trial Chamber VIII issued a reparations order finding Al Mahdi liable for 2.7 million euros in expenses for individual and collective reparations for the community of Timbuktu. Given that Al Mahdi is indigent, the Chamber encouraged the Trust Funds for Victims to complement the reparations award and directed it to submit a draft implementation plan for 16 February 2018.


The Al Mahdi’s case represents the first time that the ICC sentenced an individual for war crimes related to attacking religious buildings or historical monuments, and the first time that an individual pleaded guilty before the ICC. It is also the first case before the ICC arising from the situation in Mali.


The Republic of Mali gained its independence from France in 1960, becoming a one-party, socialist state. A coup d’état in 1991 led to a new constitution, democratic elections, and the establishment of Mali as a multi-party state.

Tuareg rebellion (January–April 2012)

In January 2012, the “Mali Civil War” started between a Tuareg rebellion led by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, area located in Northern Mali (Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad, MNLA), and the Government. The Ansar Dine, a Tuareg jihadist salafist movement, as well as other armed groups like the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other ‘Arab militias’, joined the fighting without necessarily coordinating operations between each other. The conflict in Mali was complicated by recurrent clashes between these different groups, trying to gain exclusive control over the Azawad territory, in northern Mali, and by sporadic attempts by governmental forces to retake territorial control.

Coup d’état (March 2012) and Islamist–Nationalist Conflict (June–November 2012)

On 22 March 2012 the military seized power in a coup d’état, ousting President Amadou Toumani Touré. The National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR) took control of Bamako and suspended the constitution of Mali. Upon international pressure and sanctions, an agreement was reached on 6 April 2012 and the military junta stepped down in favour of an appointed civilian government. As a consequence of the instability following the coup, Mali’s three largest northern cities — Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu — were overrun by the rebels. Early April 2012 the MNLA seized control of the region and proclaimed Azawad’s independence from Mali. The city of Timbuktu, around 1,000 km northeast of Bamako, was attacked for months by the Ansar Dine and a number of smaller Islamist groups, and they began imposing strict Sharia law.

Foreign Intervention (January 2013)

In response to Islamist territorial gains, the interim government of Mali asked for international support and in January 2013, a French-led offensive was launched. With the help of foreign military forces, the Malian military gained control over the Islamist-held territory on 8 February 2013. A peace agreement between the government and the MNLA was signed on 18 June 2013, but pulled out on 26 September 2013 by the rebel group, claiming that the government had not respected its commitments to the truce. To stabilise the country after the Tuareg rebellion, the United Nations deployed its Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (Mission multidimensionnelle intégrée des Nations unies pour la stabilisation au Mali, MINUSMA), on 1 July 2013. Presidential and legislative elections were held between July and December 2013. Another ceasefire agreement was signed on February 19, 2015 in Algiers, Algeria, but sporadic terrorist attacks still occur. The state of Emergency decreed by the Malian government in November 2015 was lifted on 2 April 2016.

The alleged crimes committed in the context of the armed conflict are mostly attributed to armed groups such as MNLA, Ansar Dine, AQIM, MUJAO and various militias.