Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi has been sentenced to nine years behind bars after admitting to the destruction of nine mausoleums during the city’s 2012 rebel occupation
A former teacher, Al-Mahdi was described by a former Madrassa tutor as the most brilliant pupil in his class, who had mastered the much-prized skill of learning the Koran by heart.
His lawyer, Jean-Louis Gilissen, defended him as “an intelligent, reasonable and educated man” who had sought to do good in response to a “divine message”.
Wearing a grey suit and striped purple tie, the defendant said nothing after the verdict and sentencing.But earlier in the trial, Al-Mahdi urged Muslims around the world not to commit acts similar to those he had admitted.”They are not going to lead to any good for humanity,” he said.
The presiding judge at the ICC, Raul Pangalangan, said Al-Mahdi’s apparently sincere remorse was among a number of mitigating factors reducing his jail term to nine years. The war crime of cultural destruction carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.
Founded by Tuareg tribes in the 5th century, Timbuktu has near mythical status as “the city of 333 saints” and the “Pearl of the Desert”.
Unesco says the mosques and holy places of Timbuktu played an essential role in the spread of Islam in Africa at an early period, and parts of its historic centre were added to the World Heritage list in 1988.