Mali: Islamic extremist Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, alias Abu Tourab has pleaded guilty at International Criminal Court to Timbuktu cultural destruction and is the first ICC defendant accused of war crimes to enter a guilty plea.
Born in Agoune, it is alleged that Ahmad al-Mahdi was an active personality in the context of the occupation of Timbaktu and was allegedly a member of Ansar Dine, a Tuareg rebel group associated with al-Qaeda. He is convicted of leading a group of people in destroying 14 mausoleums in the Malian city of Timbuktu which were on the UNESCO world heritage list and leading a brigade that meted out punishments like public floggings for minor infractions. The Al Mahdi case trial marks the first time that the ICC has considered cultural vandalism as a war crime.
On September 18, 2015, more than two years after French and Malian forces liberated Timbuktu, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for al-Mahdi. The Niger government then extradited him to the court on September 25, 2015. The hearing on confirmation of charges was held on March 1, 2016 and after that the ICC judges committed him to trial.
On March 1, 2016 al-Mahdi in the presence of his counsel expressed his intention of admission of guilt at the Hague trial. Due to his intention of expression of guilt, the trial is expected to last a week. He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, but prosecutors will request a sentence of nine to 11 years as part of a plea agreement.
Mahdi is suspected of committing several crimes, but the case has narrowly focused to highlight how cultural and religious buildings are deliberately singled out for destruction to obliterate an enemy’s history and identity.
At the opening of his trial for war crimes in The Hague, he expressed his “deep regret” to the people of Timbuktu, to whom the monuments had been of great religious and cultural importance.“I seek their forgiveness and I ask them to look at me as a son who has lost his way,” he said. The prepared statement presented to the court on Monday, ended with Mr. Mahdi saying “I would like to give a piece of advice to all Muslims in the world not to get involved in the same acts I got involved with, because they will not lead to any good for humanity.”
Fatou Bensouda the ICC prosecutor and legal adviser said that the case brings truth and catharsis. It is crucial for Timbuktu’s victims.