An Islamist militant accused of destroying cultural heritage sites in Timbuktu, Mali has pleaded guilty to charges at the International Criminal Court.
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a former teacher, told judges at the ICC he wished to plead guilty to the war crimes charges brought against him for destroying religious sites.
According to ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, al-Mahdi had expressed the wish to plead guilty during a closed session of the court on March 1, but this fact could only be made public now.
The magnitude of the loss of such irreplaceable physical embodiment of history and culture was felt by the whole of humanity, and at the expense of future generations.
He is the first person to be charged by the ICC with the crime of damaging humanity’s common cultural heritage.
Prosecutors said al-Mahdi, a member of the Ansar Dine militant group, an affiliate of the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, helped plan and lead attacks, while implementing rulings of the Islamic Tribunal set up by the rebels occupying Mali.
His trial will proceed as judges decide how to accommodate his plea.
“The magnitude of the loss of such irreplaceable physical embodiment of history and culture was felt by the whole of humanity, and at the expense of future generations,” Bensouda said.
The ICC examined events in Mali since 2012, when Tuareg rebels seized part of the north, imposing a strict interpretation of Islamic law. French and Malian troops pushed them back the following year.
Known as the “City of 333 Saints”, Timbuktu was a trading hub and a spiritual center by the 14th century, playing a key role in the spread of Islam across the continent and the mausoleums of those scholars remain important pilgrimage sites.