Mali Islamist rebel apologises for destroying shrines

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Bamako (Mali), Aug 23 (IANS) An Islamist militant has admitted and apologised for destroying cultural sites in Mali’s Timbuktu in a trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), a media report said.

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi said he was “really sorry” for his actions and asked for forgiveness, BBC reported on Monday.

Mahdi was accused of leading rebel forces who destroyed historic shrines at the world heritage site in 2012. It was the first time that the court in The Hague tried a case of cultural destruction.

It was also the first time a suspected Islamist militant has stood trial at the ICC and the first time a suspect has pleaded guilty.

Prosecutors said Mahdi was a member of Ansar Dine, an Islamist terrorist group that occupied Timbuktu.

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Islamists regard the shrines and the city’s ancient manuscripts, covering everything from history to astronomy, as idolatrous.

Court documents describe Mahdi as a religious scholar who directed fighters to wreck several sites with pickaxes and chisels after failing to deter locals from praying at them.

He was charged with war crimes over the destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque.

Pleading guilty, he said: “I am really sorry, I am really remorseful, and I regret all the damage that my actions have caused.”

“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 in, because they are not going to lead to any good for humanity,” the BBC quoted him as saying.

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Given his guilty plea the trial will probably be over by the end of this week. He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail. Nine victims were later due to share their experiences in court.

Ansar Dine, an extremist militia with roots in the nomadic Tuareg people, has ties to al-Qaeda. It was eventually driven out of Mali in a French-led intervention.

The court has previously heard that Mahdi, a former teacher aged about 40, was a “zealous member” of the militia. He was alleged to have been the head of the section that enforced strict Islamic law in Timbuktu.



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