The International Criminal Court in The Hague has given out a sentence in the case of the shrines in Timbuktu. The case was the first time the court was prosecuting the destruction of cultural heritage on its own. The actions of the radical Islamists who destroyed the shrines were classified as a war crime. The events took place in Timbuktu in Mali where Islamists demolished historic Muslim shrines. The site was revered, as it was the place of burial for Muslim holy men and for Muslim scholars. Several centuries old, the place was smashed to pieces in the summer of 2012.
The Charges against Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi
The charges were brought against Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, who was part of a jihadist group. In 2012, the group had links to Al Qaeda. The prosecution had claimed that he was the one who had organized the destruction of the shrines in Timbuktu.
Raul Cano Pangalangan was the presiding judge and read out the sentence for Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi. Mr. Mahdi, born in Mali, listened to the translation in Arabic. The court found him guilty of a war crime and sentenced him to nine years in prison.
Destroying cultural heritage is a crime punishable by as much as thirty years in prison. For Mr. Mahdi the prosecutors recommended between nine and eleven years in jail. He received the least number of years. Judge Pangalangan found mitigating factors. Mr. Mahdi had admitted to being guilty of the crime. Also, he had cooperated with the prosecutors and shown remorse. Another mitigating factor was that Mahdi had initially opposed the destruction of the shrines.
Mr. Mahdi had released a formal statement last month. In it he said that he regretted what he had done and asked for the people of Timbuktu to forgive him. He said that he had joined “a group of deviant people” that had ties to Al Qaeda and Ansar Dine. Ansar Dine was an Islamist group that controlled the northern part of Mali in 2012. A French-led military force took back the area the following year. By then the damage had been done and the shrines were already devastated.
The Destruction of the Shrines in Timbuktu
The smashed shrines were part of an Unesco world heritage site. Nine in total, each one was the size of a room. They were modest structures of mud and stones and collapsed easily. Foreign donors have helped pay for the restoration of the shrines. The rebuilding efforts have also repaired an old local mosque.
At the time Mr. Mahdi was the head of the morality brigade of Ansar Dine. The leadership of the Islamist group decided that the shrines violated certain Islamic legal codes. So the decision was to destroy them. Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi organized the attacks on the Muslim tombs. He oversaw the destruction of the shrines and even “directly participated”. Also, he wrote a sermon about the demolition of the Muslim shrines which he read at the Friday Prayer before the launch of the attack.
Image source: here.