Jihadist pleads guilty to destroying ancient Timbuktu artifacts

Updated 1:19 PM EDT, Mon August 22, 2016
A still from a video shows Islamist militants destroying an ancient shrine in Timbuktu on July 1, 2012. Islamist rebels in northern Mali smashed four more tombs of ancient Muslim saints in Timbuktu on July 1 as the International Criminal Court warned their campaign of destruction was a war crime.  The hardline Islamists who seized control of Timbuktu along with the rest of northern Mali three months ago, consider the shrines to be idolatrous and have wrecked seven tombs in two days.    AFP PHOTO / AFP / STR        (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
STR/AFP/Getty Images
A still from a video shows Islamist militants destroying an ancient shrine in Timbuktu on July 1, 2012. Islamist rebels in northern Mali smashed four more tombs of ancient Muslim saints in Timbuktu on July 1 as the International Criminal Court warned their campaign of destruction was a war crime. The hardline Islamists who seized control of Timbuktu along with the rest of northern Mali three months ago, consider the shrines to be idolatrous and have wrecked seven tombs in two days. AFP PHOTO / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

In a first, International Criminal Court lists destroying cultural artifacts as a war crime

The city of Timbuktu in Mali is a UNESCO World Heritage site founded in fifth century

(CNN) —  

In a historic first, the International Criminal Court has classified destroying cultural artifacts as a war crime.

It follows the trial of jihadist Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, who pleaded guilty Monday to destroying religious monuments in the ancient city of Timbuktu in Mali.

“I’m willing to accept the judgment of the chamber, but I will do so with pain and a broken heart,” Mahdi told the court Monday.

Mahdi, also known as “Abou Tourab,” was charged in March in the attacks between June and July 2012. He is believed to be a member of the al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Dine in Mali, which oversaw the ransacking of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

“Such attacks affect humanity as a whole. We must stand up to the destruction and defacing of our common heritage,” prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in September.

Man faces war crimes charges for destroying Timbuktu monuments

The maximum sentence that Mahdi could face is 30 years.

“It is also my hope that the years I will spend in prison will be source to purge the evil spirit that took me and I will keep my hopes high that the people will be able to forgive me,” Mahdi said at his trial.

“I would like to give a piece of advice to the Muslims in the world not to get involved in the kind of acts that I did because it will give no good to humanity.”