ICC Unseals Arrest Warrant For Ansar Al-Din Founder Iyad Ag Ghaly

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Otago, New Zealand. As the Africa Desk Chief for Atlas, her expertise spans conflict, politics, and history. She is also the Editor for The ModernInsurgent and has interests in yoga and meditation.

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On June 21st, the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court (ICC) unsealed a 2017 arrest warrant for Iyad Ag Ghaly, the founder of al-Qa’eda linked militant group Ansar Al-Din, in regards to war crimes and crimes against humanity that he and his group committed in northern Mali between January 2012 and January 2013.

What You Need to Know

Initially, Ghaly’s arrest warrant was issued under seal on July 18th, 2017. A sealed warrant, as outlined by the Justice Initiative, “Is withheld from the public. It is only accessible to persons authorized by the court, typically selected national law enforcement officers which the court relies upon to implement arrests, given that it does not have its own police force. The person subject to the arrest warrant therefore does not know that he or she is wanted by the ICC and is less likely to implement steps to evade being apprehended. This confidential process therefore enables greater maneuverability in tracking suspects and planning an arrest strategy.”

According to the ICC’s statement, “There are reasonable grounds to believe that he [Ghaly] would be the undisputed leader of Ansar Eddine [Al-Din], which at the time had control of Timbuktu, Mali, jointly with al Qa’eda in the Islamic Maghreb (“AQIM”).

Continuing, “Mr. Ghaly is suspected of being responsible for the following crimes:

  • War crimes: Murder of soldiers placed hors de combat in Aguelhoc—referring to the battle led by Ag Ghaly in January 2012 in the city of Aguelhok between Ansar al-Din forces and the Malian Army, in which the latter suffered heavy casualties; rape, sexual slavery and any other form of sexual violence; violence to person (mutilation, cruel treatment and torture) and outrages upon personal dignity (humiliating and degrading treatment); intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion and historic monuments; and
  • Crimes against humanity: Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty; rape, sexual slavery and any other form of sexual violence; torture; other inhumane acts causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health; persecution on religious grounds; and persecution of women and girls on gender grounds.”

Ghaly is of Tuareg ethnicity, with Islamic militants such as Ansar Al-Din fighting alongside Tuareg independence movements during the period under scrutiny. The militant group then split from the Tuaregs and began counter-offensives against Tuareg advances as disagreements arose over the implementation of Shariah law in cities such as Timbuktu after government forces had retreated.

It is currently unclear what prompted the ICC to unseal the warrant, although it is likely related to the current gains Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), of which Ansar Al-Din is a member, is making against government and Wagner forces in Mali as well as Burkina Faso and Niger in recent months.

Recently, on June 11th, JNIM conducted an attack on Burkinabe forces at a military outpost in Mansila. An estimated 112 soldiers were killed and some taken hostage. On the same day in Mali, an improvised explosive device (IED) planted by JNIM killed three Wagner personnel as they were traveling in a vehicle.