Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a jihadist, who was sentenced to nine years in prison for destroying several sites in Mali, has apologized.
On Tuesday, Mahdi appeared in front of the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the Netherlands and pleaded guilty. The Islamic militant said he regrets destroying monuments that are listed on the World Heritage Site.
Mahdi told the people of Mali that he was sorry for what he had done and promised to spend his time behind bars reflecting on his actions. He also said that he hopes time will heal the ones he hurt.
Mahdi was considered a brilliant mind by many in his country. He studied in Libya and Saudi Arabia. When Mahdi returned to Timbuktu, he worked as a teacher.
Mahdi was also an educator in an association for Muslim youths where he provided guidance, spiritual advice, and pushed them to live by the principles of Sharia law.
Mahdi grew frustrated because many other Malians did not share his vision of the strictest interpretations of Islamic law. He was also angered by the fact that his fellow countrymen would not change their practice of worshiping Timbuktu’s shrines of Muslim saints.
In 2012, Mahdi joined the Islamist group Ansar Dine and took part in the destruction of ten monuments in Timbuktu. According to authorities, between June 30, 2012 and July 10, 2012, Mahdi “committed the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against historical monuments or buildings dedicated to religion.”
Using pickaxes, chisels, and pick-up trucks, Mahdi with the help of other men destroyed monuments, which date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Mahdi and other jihadists destroyed nine mausoleums and the door of the revered Sidi Yahia mosque.
He caused the destruction of the Mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud Ben Omar Mohamed Aquit, Mausoleum of Sheikh Mohamed Mahmoud al-Arawani, Mausoleum of Sheikh Sidi Mokhtar Ben Sidi Muhammad Ben Sheikh Alkabir, and Mausoleum of Alpha Moya and Mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar. Some of the sites have been rebuilt. When pleading guilty last month, Mahdi said:
“I want to spend my years in prison purging the evil spirit that took him.”
However, during the destruction, Mahdi gave the following reasons for his shocking actions:
“The Prophet (Mohamed) said break apart these mausoleums because all people are equal and so in a cemetery, no tomb must rise higher than another.”
Erica Bussey, Amnesty International’s senior legal adviser, said:
“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.”
Mahdi’s attorney, Jean-Louis Gilissen, defended his client by saying that he is “an intelligent, reasonable and educated man,” who took action after receiving a message from above. The court stated:
“(They) were an integral part of the religious life of its inhabitants and constitute a common heritage for the community. Their destruction does not only affect the direct victims of the crimes but also people through Mali and the international community.”
This is the first time that the International Criminal Court tried cultural destruction as a war crime. Bussey said she hopes that the International Criminal Court will pursue with its investigation of similar offenses committed in Mali.
Mahdi will not be imprisoned for nine years because the time he spent in detention since his arrest will be deducted from his sentence.