Al Mahdi faces a maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment, but prosecutors say they will seek a sentence of nine to 11 years.
When Islamic rebels backed by al-Qaeda infiltrated Timbuktu in 2012, they wreaked havoc in the Malian city and destroyed Muslim shrines, including nine mausoleums and the door of a mosque that had remained shut for hundreds of years, per the Guardian.
Numerous mausoleums date back to Timbuktu’s days of glory in the Middle Ages, when it was one of the greatest centres of learning and trade in the Islamic world.
Al Mahdi, aged about 40 (pictured above at an appearance last September), is the first Islamic extremist charged by the ICC and the first person to face a solo charge of cultural destruction.
This first trial at an global tribunal for the destruction of historic monuments and buildings sends a strong message on the determination of the worldwide community to ensure that this type of crime is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, not only in Mali but everywhere in the World.
Al-Mahdi admits he’s guilty and is asking for forgiveness for heading-up an al-Qaida-linked group that desecrated most of Timbuktu’s 16 historic mausoleums, along with ancient manuscripts and a mosque.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday the trial “draws our attention to an increasingly worrying trend of deliberate destruction of cultural heritage in situations of armed conflict”.
Al-Madhi was a leading member of Ansar dine, a mainly Tuareg group which at the time held sway over Mali’s desert north under a version of Islamic law which viewing such shrines as idolatrous.
ICC prosecutors allege Mahdi was a member of Ansar Dine, a mainly ethnic Tuareg movement that in 2012 took control of northeastern Timbuktu along with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
“I am also seeking forgiveness from the ancestors of the mausoleums I have destroyed”.
On Monday, the ICC prosecutor thinks a trial is important: too many cultural losses caused the ISIS and his jihadists.
Al Mahdi’s defense team has urged the judges to show leniency, casting him as a volunteer teacher and expert on Islam who believed the destruction was justified on religious grounds, but had argued against it, saying it would spark protests in Timbuktu.
“He wants to be truthful to himself and he wants to admit the acts that he has committed”, Aouini said, adding he also sought “pardon” for his acts.
As the head of this brigade, “he used the carrot and the stick”, said a senior religious figure in Timbuktu, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, personally whipping women he judged “impure”, but holding sympathetic meetings with smokers reconsidering their habit.
While those kinds of crimes “have an immediate impact”, says Erica Bussey, a senior legal adviser to Amnesty International, “the consequences of cultural destruction go beyond the victims; it’s an attack on people’s cultural identity”. They were eventually pushed out of Mali by French military intervention.