Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, the Malian rebel accused of damaging monuments in the name of Islam in the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu, has pleaded guilty at the International Criminal Court.
He has asked the court to pardon his crimes and asked the people of Mali for forgiveness and only look at him as a son who lost his way.
This comes moments after his trial got underway at the Hague, which accuses him of “intentionally directing attacks” against nine of Timbuktu’s famous mausoleums as well as the Sidi Yahia mosque which dates from the 15th century, when Timbuktu was a trading hub and seat of learning in 2012.
The former trainee teacher is alleged to have been an accomplice of militants from the al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine group, who destroyed the ancient shrines with guns and pick-axes.
He becomes the first suspect to be accused of destroying cultural artifacts by prosecutors at the court, which has previously focused on human rights abuses.
In 2012, the world witnessed the tragic destruction of the mausoleums in Timbuktu – one of Africa’s spiritual and intellectual capitals in the 15th and 16th centuries – inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Also referred to as the “City of 333 Saints”, Timbuktu was a trading hub and spiritual centre by the 14th century, playing a key role in the spread of Islam across the continent.
ICC has also been urged to charge Islamic State fighters for destroying the remains of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, but it is unable to do so because Syria is not a member of the court.