An alleged Islamist radical accused of helping to destroy historic buildings in Mali made his first appearance at the International Criminal Court on Wednesday.
During a brief hearing, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi confirmed his identity but declined to make a statement.
ICC prosecutors say Al Mahdi directed or took part in attacks that demolished nine historic mausoleums and a mosque in the city of Timbuktu during June and July of 2012.
Islamist militants took power in most of northern Mali early that year. Prosecutors say Al Mahdi was a member of the Ansar Dine militant group and was an “active personality” in the occupation of Timbuktu.
Wednesday’s hearing was to inform the defendant of the charges. The court set January 18 for the start of the confirmation of charges hearing, where judges will determine whether there is sufficient evidence against Al Mahdi to proceed to trial.
Mahdi was surrendered to the court by authorities in Niger on Saturday and brought to the ICC’s detention center in the Netherlands.
This is the ICC’s first case relating to the situation in Mali, and its first concerning the destruction of buildings dedicated to religion and historical monuments.
Timbuktu is listed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In 2012, Islamist militants destroyed 14 of the city’s 16 mausoleums, one-room structures that hold the tombs of the city’s renowned thinkers.
The militants had condemned the buildings as examples of idolatry.
The buildings were restored by the U.N. after a French-led military operation drove the militants from power in northern Mali in 2013.