Jihadist jailed for nine years for attacking ancient shrines with pick-axes

A jihadist has been jailed for nine years for destroying ancient monuments with pick-axes and bulldozers. Former teacher Ahmad al-Faqi al Mahdi, who led the destruction of shrines on the UNESCO world heritage site in Timbuktu in Mali four years ago, was spared a longer term because of the remorse he had shown remorse. Passing sentence at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Judge Raul Cano Pangalangan said that Timbuktu was a world symbol for the expansion of Islam in Africa. The shrines were places where pilgrims went to pray and were “among the most cherished buildings of the city”, he added.

(They) were an integral part of the religious life of its inhabitants and constitute a common heritage for the community. Their destruction does not only affect the direct victims of the crimes but also people through Mali and the international community.

International Criminal Court judgement

Mahdi was a member of a jihadist group linked to Al-Qaeda, and had organised the wrecking of the monuments in June and July 2012. Last month, Mahdi, who was born in 1975, admitted attacking the nine mud and stone structures and asked for forgiveness, saying he had been overcome by “evil spirits”. The landmark verdict is the first to focus solely on cultural destruction as a war crime and the first arising out of the conflict in Mali. Legal experts hope the judgement will act as a deterrent to those bent on razing the world’s cultural heritage, which UN chief Ban Ki-moon recently condemned as “tearing at the fabric of societies”.

This verdict is a clear recognition that attacks on religious and historical monuments can destroy the culture and identity of a population and constitute crimes under international law

Erica Bussey, Amnesty International’s senior legal adviser