The ICC has sentenced a member of the Ansar Dine Islamist group to 9 years in prison for destroying historical buildings in Timbuktu, Mali, marking the first time it has ruled on a crime related to cultural artifacts.
Marking a historic day for cultural preservation, the Court was unanimous in its condemnation of the destruction wrought by Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi.
"The chamber unanimously finds that Mr. Al-Mahdi is guilty of the crime of attacking protected sites as a war crime," Judge Paul Pangalangan told the court on Tuesday. Considering Mahdi's cooperation with the prosecutors and his impeccable behavior during detention, he was awarded a sentence of 9 years in jail.
"It is alleged that Mr. Al Mahdi, born in Agoune, 100 kilometers west of Timbuktu, Mali, was an active personality in the context of the occupation of Timbuktu. He allegedly was a member of Ansar Eddine, a mainly Tuareg movement associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)," prosecutors said in their statement.
The court recognized the severity of the crimes targeting sites which "were dedicated to religion and historic monuments and were not military objectives," but also gave Mahdi credit for pleading guilty and for his "substantial cooperation" with the prosecution.
Priceless heritage monuments considered 'blasphemous' by Islamist hardliners
Prosecutors said Mahdi, between 30 and 40 years of age and an Islamic scholar, led a group of religious police, called the "Hisbah" and destroyed nine mausoleums and a mosque using pick-axes and crowbars in 2012. He himself took part in many of these activities.
During a two-day trial in August, Mahdi pleaded guilty, saying he had been influenced by an "evil wave" spurred by al-Qaeda and the Ansar Dine groups that are active in northern Mali.
Mahdi apologized after several videos emerged showing him and his compatriots razing down the monuments and urged other Muslims to not follow his example.
Known as the "City of 333 saints," Timbuktu was founded between the fifth and the 12th centuries by indigenous Tuareg tribes. Most of the sites destroyed in 2012 were built in the 14th century, during Mali's golden age as a trading hub and the center of Sufi Islam, considered blasphemous by orthodox Islamic groups.
Lawyer Fatou Bensouda compared the 2012 incident to when "Islamic State" (IS) militants destroyed artifacts in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra and the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.
Mahdi is the first person to be convicted by the International Criminal Court on Islamist-related charges. He is also the first person to be indicted for destroying cultural heritage. The ICC has indicted 39 individuals since it began operating in 2002. These include Ugandan leader Joseph Kony, Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi and Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo.
mg/kl (AFP, AP)