July 14 (UPI) -- An accused Islamist militant declined to enter a plea in response to war crimes charges at the start of his International Criminal Court trial Tuesday in The Hague.
Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, 42, refused to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges, but acknowledged he understood the charges.
He told the judges, "I cannot answer that question," when they read each of the 13 charges.
Hassan is accused of joining the Ansar Dine militant group and leading a force of religious police during an Islamist occupation of Timbuktu, Mali, in mid-2012. Prosecutors said he enforced a strict version of Sharia law, allegedly torturing offenders and encouraging forced marriages, which "led to repeated rapes and sexual enslavement of women and girls."
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that the city was subjected to Hassan's "tyranny" for 10 months.
"Their plan and design was to subjugate the men and women of Timbuktu to their power and control," Bensouda said.
Hassan's lawyers said he's not fit to stand trial because he has post-traumatic stress disorder but has been unable to undergo an assessment because of coronavirus restrictions.
They also said their client was not a radical and that his behavior was coerced.