War crimes judges at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday in The Hague sentenced a former Islamist militant leader to nine years in prison.
The prosecutor said Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a former teacher, was sentenced for overseeing the destruction of the World Heritage Site of Timbuktu in the West African nation of Mali.
He said that the panel of judges at The Hague said that the sites, nine of them on the UNESCO World Heritage list, “had an emotional and symbolic meaning for the residents of Timbuktu.
The prosecutor said that al-Mahdi had pleaded guilty to wrecking centuries-old mausoleums in the Malian city of Timbuktu, which prompted the court to give him a shorter sentence than the 30 years possible for a war crime.
He said that the court found him guilty of ordering the destruction of historical and religious monuments in Timbuktu between June 30 and July 11, 2012.
“The judges in The Hague said he was actively involved in the desecration of the site.
“Video footage shown during the trial showed al-Mahdi destroying a wall with the help of a pickaxe,’’ he said.
Al-Mahdi took part in the destruction of nine saints’ tombs and a mosque from the middle ages as part of Ansar Eddine, a terrorist group associated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The Presiding Judge, Raul Pangalangan, said that by striking at their most meaningful religious sites, al-Mahdi participated in “a war activity aimed at breaking the soul of the people.
He said specifically, that Al-Mahdi exercised joint control over the attacks” by planning, leading and participating in them, supplying pick-axes and in one case a bulldozer.
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi asked for forgiveness during his brief trial in August.
He said he had been swept up in an “evil wave” when al Qaeda and the Ansar Dine Islamist groups briefly seized control of the ancient sites.
The case is the first to address the charge of destroying world cultural heritage, a crime under international law.
It is also the first case at the court to involve a suspected jihadist.