Muslim radical jailed over Timbuktu shrines destruction
A Muslim radical who admitted committing a war crime by overseeing the destruction of historic mausoleums in the Malian desert city of Timbuktu has been jailed for nine years.
Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, a former teacher, had pleaded guilty at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and expressed remorse for his role in overseeing the destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque door by pickaxe-wielding rebels in June and July 2012.
His trial, which opened on August 22, was a landmark for the court, which has struggled to bring suspects to justice since its establishment in 2002.
It was the tribunal's first conviction for destruction of religious buildings or historic monuments, and the first guilty verdict delivered against a Muslim extremist.
Al-Qaida-linked rebels occupied the Saharan city of Timbuktu in 2012 and enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law, which included the destruction of the historic mud-brick tombs which they considered to be idolatrous.
Al Mahdi was the leader of one of the "morality brigades" set up by Timbuktu's new rulers.
Prosecutors said Al Mahdi was a member of Ansar Eddine, an Islamic extremist group with links to al-Qaida which held power in northern Mali in 2012. The militants were driven out after nearly a year by French forces, who arrested Al Mahdi in 2014 in neighbouring Niger.
Clad in a grey suit and striped purple tie, the defendant said nothing after the verdict and sentencing.
Earlier in the trial, Al Mahdi urged Muslims around the world not to commit acts similar to those he had admitted.
"They are not going to lead to any good for humanity," he said.
Al Mahdi had faced a maximum sentence of 30 years' imprisonment for the destruction of the World Heritage-listed sites.
But presiding judge Raul Pangalangan said numerous factors argued for a lesser prison term, including Al Mahdi's initial reluctance to raze the historic buildings and what the judge called his apparently sincere admission of guilt.