ICC Sentences Militant to Nine Years for Timbuktu Attacks

  • ICC delivers first verdict for attacks on heritage sites
  • Malian militant directed attacks on centuries-old buildings

An Islamist militant who led the destruction of historic monuments in the Malian city of Timbuktu in 2012 was sentenced to nine years imprisonment in an unprecedented ruling by the International Criminal Court.

Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, a Malian citizen, was the first suspect at the The Hague-based court to face war crime charges for deliberately destroying religious and historic landmarks, including an ancient mosque door and nine tombs. He pleaded guilty last month.

Al Mahdi, born in the Timbuktu region, was part of an al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group that occupied the northern part of Mali four years ago. He is considered to have directed the attacks on the centuries-old buildings with tombs of holy men, turning sites into piles of rubble because they were considered idolatrous by the insurgents.

“The crime which you have been convicted of is of significant gravity,” Judge Raul C. Pangalangan said during sentencing procedures on Tuesday. “The chamber, unanimously, sentences you to nine years imprisonment.”

Empathy for Victims

Al Mahdi’s admission of guilt and his empathy for the victims were considered mitigating circumstances, Pangalangan said. The time Al Mahdi spent in detention since September last year will be deducted from the prison term, the judge said.

Timbuktu is known for its ancient mosques and 16 mausoleums dating as far back as the 15th century, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which has designated the desert city a World Heritage site.

The Islamist insurgency was quashed by a French military offensive in 2013. The ICC put out a warrant for Al Mahdi’s arrest in September 2015 and he was handed to The Hague eight days later.

“Its with deep regret and with great pain that I had to enter a guilty plea and all the charges brought against me are accurate and correct,” Al Mahdi said Aug. 22. He advised Muslims around the world not to commit similar acts “because they are not going to lead to any good for humanity.”

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