War crimes court delays hearing in Timbuktu destruction case

Alleged Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist leader Ahmad Faqi Al Mahdi (left) looks on in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on September 30, 2015 (AFP Photo/Robin Van Lonkhuijsen)

The Hague (AFP) - The International Criminal Court on Wednesday postponed a landmark hearing to confirm charges against an alleged Al-Qaeda militant accused of ordering the destruction of monuments in Mali's fabled city of Timbuktu.

The case is the first to be brought by the world's only permanent war crimes court over the extremist violence that rocked Mali in 2012 and 2013.

It is also the first time that a jihadist has appeared before the court in The Hague and the first ICC case to feature the destruction of religious buildings and historical monuments.

The court said in a statement that judge Cuno Tarfusser had granted a defence request to postpone the confirmation of charges hearing against Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi.

The case will now be heard on March 1.

Faqi's lawyers asked for the postponement, saying not all evidence in the case had been disclosed.

They also said there had been a delay in providing a computer for their client and that the court's move to new headquarters in December had affected their preparations.

A former civil servant in the Malian government in 2011, Faqi was handed over to the ICC in September last year by authorities in Niger.

A Tuareg leader also known as Abu Tourab, he is accused of war crimes over the deliberate destruction of buildings at a UNESCO-listed desert heritage site in 2012.

Nicknamed the "City of 333 Saints", Timbuktu, which is located around 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) northeast of Mali's capital Bamako, was overrun by Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in early 2012.

In June of that year, the militants destroyed more than a dozen of the city's mausoleums dating back to its golden age as an economic, intellectual and spiritual centre in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Faqi was a leader of Ansar Dine, a mainly Tuareg group which held sway over Mali's desert north, together with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and a third local group, until being routed in a French-led offensive in January 2013.