The Hague: An Islamist leader was on Saturday handed over to the International Criminal Court on charges of destroying much of Mali`s fabled city of Timbuktu, in the first such case before the war crimes court, officials said.
Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi was detained under an arrest warrant issued by the ICC last week and handed over by the authorities in Niger, the court said in a statement.
He arrived before dawn Saturday in The Netherlands, where the ICC is based, to face charges in what is the first such case to be brought by the court for the destruction of religious buildings and historical monuments.
It is also the first case to be brought by the ICC -- the world`s only permanent war crimes court -- for the unrest that has wracked the west African nation of Mali.
Faqi, a Tuareg leader also known Abu Tourab, is suspected of war crimes for deliberately destroying buildings at the UNESCO-listed desert heritage site in 2012.
Called the "City of 333 Saints", Timbuktu was attacked for months by jihadists who followed a brutal version of Islamic law.
In June 2012, Al-Qaeda-linked militants destroyed 15 of the northern city`s mausoleums, important buildings dating back to the golden age of Timbuktu as an economic, intellectual and spiritual centre in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Faqi was a leader of Ansar Dine, a mainly Tuareg group linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and one of the groups that briefly took control of Mali`s vast arid north in 2012.
Born in Agoune, 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Timbuktu, Faqi "was an active personality in the context of the occupation of Timbuktu," the ICC said in a statement.
In his role as part of the Islamic Court of Timbuktu, Faqi is alleged to have jointly ordered or carried out the destruction of nine of the mausoleums as well as the Sidi Yahia mosque.
The ICC said there were reasonable grounds to suspect that Faqi was "criminally responsible for having committed, individually and jointly with others, facilitated or otherwise contributed to the commission of war crimes" linked to the destruction of the buildings.