THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Sept. 27 (UPI) — The International Criminal Court sentenced a man Tuesday to nine years in prison for destroying historic Muslim shrines in Mali.
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a member of the Malian al-Qaida offshoot Ansar Dine, pleaded guilty in August to leading the 2012 demolition of nine shrines built above tombs of venerated Muslim scholars and religious leaders in Timbuktu. Ansar Dine believed the shrines violated their strict Muslim legal code. Each of the small shrines, made of mud and stones, have since been rebuilt with the aid of foreign donors. French troops recaptured the area from Ansar Dine in 2013.
Al-Mahdi oversaw the demolition, but was apologetic in his guilty plea, a mitigating factor in his sentence. On Tuesday, presiding judge Raul Cano Pangalangan noted al-Madhi’s admission of guilt, cooperation with prosecutors, remorse, initial reluctance to carry out the bulldozing of the shrines and attempts to limit the extent of destruction. A 30-year sentence was possible.
The case was the first ICC prosecution of the destruction of cultural heritage as a war crime. Al-Mahdi is also the first Islamic extremist to be tried in the court in The Hague, Netherlands.
El-Boukhari Ben Essayouti, who led reconstruction of the shrines, said al-Mahdi’s trial “has to be useful for something, showing to everyone that in the same way that we cannot kill another person with impunity, we cannot just destroy a world heritage site with impunity either.”