Jihadist sentenced to 9 years for destroying ancient Timbuktu shrines

03:00 - Source: CNN
Jihadist apologizes for destroying ancient artifacts

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Militant Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi pleaded guilty to war crimes last month

For first time, International Criminal Court tried cultural destruction as a war crime

CNN  — 

The International Criminal Court on Tuesday sentenced Islamic militant Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi to nine years of imprisonment for destroying ancient shrines in Mali.

Mahdi, believed to be a member of al Qaeda affiliate Ansar Dine in Mali, pleaded guilty to war crimes for destroying religious and historic monuments in the ancient city of Timbuktu.

The trial was a landmark one at The Hague, marking the first time the International Criminal Court tried cultural destruction as a war crime.

The court found Mahdi supervised the destruction of 10 of the most important historical sites at the UNESCO World Heritage site and participated in attacks on at least five.

The Alfa Moya mausoleum was among the sites al-Faqi al-Mahdi was accused of helping destroy.

The court said the sites were dedicated to religious and historical monuments and were not military objectives.

“(They) were an integral part of the religious life of its inhabitants and constitute a common heritage for the community,” it said.

“Their destruction does not only affect the direct victims of the crimes but also people through Mali and the international community.”

The Djinguereber mosque is one of Timbuktu's treasures.

When pleading guilty last month, Mahdi said he wanted to spend his years in prison purging the “evil spirit” that took him.

“This verdict is a clear recognition that attacks on religious and historical monuments can destroy the culture and identity of a population and constitute crimes under international law,” said Erica Bussey, Amnesty International’s senior legal adviser.

Bussey said that the International Criminal Court should continue to investigate crimes committed during the 2012 conflict in Mali.

The time Mahdi has spent in detention since his September 2015 arrest will be deducted from his sentence. The maximum sentence that Mahdi could have faced was 30 years.

Attacks on historic sites

Like ISIS in the Middle East, Ansar Dine in northern Mali declared it would establish an Islamist state and enforce strict Sharia law with little room for cultural or religious tolerance, including historic monuments and religious shrines.

The group turned some of these treasures into rubble, including the tombs of historic religious figures. It also went after institutions housing documents from the Middle Ages in Timbuktu, which was founded in the fifth century.

CNN’s Milena Veselinovic contributed to this report.