Islamic extremist pleads guilty to Timbuktu war crimes

  • 23/08/2016
Islamic extremist pleads guilty to Timbuktu war crimes

An Islamic extremist has pleaded guilty to destroying historic mausoleums in the Malian desert city of Timbuktu.

As his International Criminal Court trial started on Monday, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi told judges, he was entering the guilty plea "with deep regret and great pain."

Al Mahdi led a group of radicals that destroyed 14 of Timbuktu's 16 mausoleums in 2012 because they considered them totems of idolatry. The one-room structures that house the tombs of the city's great thinkers were on the World Heritage list.

Al Mahdi is the first suspect to face an ICC charge of deliberately attacking religious or historical monuments.

Al-Mahdi's case before the court centres on whether, as a leader of the insurgent group Ansar Dine, he was responsible for the destruction of nine mausoleums and the Sidi Yahia mosque in 2012.

By pleading guilty, his trial could wrap up in a week - an unheard of occurrence in the court's history of sluggish, years-long proceedings that have drawn criticism.

Many of the mausoleums date back to Timbuktu's days of glory in the Middle Ages, when it was one of the greatest centres of learning and trade in the Islamic world.