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Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


Al Mahdi, Ansar Eddine, International Criminal Court (ICC), UNESCO, world heritage sites


Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, also known as Abou Tourab, was a member of the radical Islamic group Ansar Eddine, serving as one of four commanders during its brutal occupation of Timbuktu in 2012. The International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Al Mahdi on several charges of war crimes for intentional attacks against ten religious and historic buildings and monuments. All the buildings that Al Mahdi was charged with attacking had been under UNESCO protection and most had been listed as world heritage sites.

The case against Al Mahdi at the ICC unfolded relatively quickly and efficiently, from the official Malian referral of the case to the ICC until the end of the trial when the defendant, who had pled guilty, was sentenced. Al Mahdi’s initial arrest caught many by surprise. While he was detained in a prison in Niger, ICC authorities issued a sealed warrant for his arrest, sent representatives to meet with Niger government officials, and transferred him to the ICC detention facility at The Hague. In addition, Al Mahdi’s arrest and prosecution at the ICC have sparked controversy because of the court’s decision to pursue a little-known defendant for a relatively insignificant crime. Others, however, have applauded the ICC’s prosecution of Al Mahdi as a victory for the institution and a groundbreaking legal precedent. This article analyzes the Al Mahdi case and argues that his conviction will not only constitute an important precedent for the ICC, but also contribute toward the tribunal’s overall legitimacy.