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September 27, 2016

ICC Ruling: Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi sentenced to 9 years in prison for destruction of the fabled shrines of Timbuktu

Arrested in Niger and transferred to The Hague in September 2015 Ahmad al Faqi al Mahdi, a one time member of the Mali-operating Islamic fundamentalist group Ansar ed-Din (best translated as guardians of the faith) stood before the Trial Chamber VIII of the International Criminal Court (ICC) today while it delivered its judgment in the case of The Prosecutor v. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi.   During today's hearing, the Chamber unanimously found Mr Al Mahdi guilty beyond reasonable doubt as a co-perpetrator of the war crime consisting in intentionally directing attacks against religious and historic buildings in Timbuktu, Mali. 

During a 45 minute long hearing presented in its entirety below, the three-judge Chamber sentenced Mr Al Mahdi to nine years imprisonment with a deduction of time served for the days in which he has been incarcerated following his arrest in Nigeria on the ICC warrant issued on 18 September 2015.   According to ICC spokesman spokesperson Fadi ElAbdallah Al Mahdi will not serve out his sentence in the detention centre at the ICC in the Hague. He will “serve his sentence in a national establishment of a state which has agreed to receive the convicted.  Decisions on this issue will be made in due course by the ICC in dialogue with relevant states.” 

According to ICC documents Mr.  al-Mahdi was appointed to head the Hisbah (the manners brigade) in April 2012 which he oversaw until September 2012. The Hisbah was in charge of regulating the morality of the people of Timbuktu, and of suppressing and repressing anything perceived by the occupying forces to constitute a visible vice.

Between June 30, 2012 and around July 11, 2012 al-Mahdi and his co-perpetrators first attacked and destroyed:

🏺 The Sidi Mahamoud Ben Omar Mohamed Aquit Mausoleum
🏺 The Sheikh Mohamed Mahmoud Al Arawani Mausoleum
🏺The Sheikh Sidi El Mokhtar Ben Sidi Mouhammad Al Kabir Al Kounti Mausoleum
🏺 The Alpha Moya Mausoleum
🏺 The Sheikh Mouhamad El Micky Mausoleum
🏺 The Sheikh Abdoul Kassim Attouaty Mausoleum
🏺 The Sheikh Sidi Ahmed Ben Amar Arragadi Mausoleum
🏺 The Ahamed Fulane Mausoleum adjoining the Djingareyber Mosque 
🏺 The Bahaber Babadié Mausoleum adjoining the Djingareyber Mosque 
🏺 The door of the Sidi Yahia Mosque

With the exception of the Sheikh Mohamed Mahmoud Al Arawani Mausoleum, each of these buildings were all classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Sites which embodied the identity of the city, known as the “Pearl of the Desert” and the “City of 333 Saints”. 

Testifying at the opening of his trial on August 22, 2016 Mr. Al Mahdi expressed remorse and admitted to the ICC that he was guilty of the war crime consisting of attacking the historic and religious monuments stating “All the charges brought against me are accurate and correct. I am really sorry, and I regret all the damage that my actions have caused.”  He further stated “I seek their forgiveness and I ask them to look at me as a son who has lost his way,” and “I would like to make them a solemn promise that this was the first and the last wrongful act I will ever commit.”

Mr. Al Faqi Al Mahdi’s guilty plea and conviction constitute a watershed moment in heritage crime prosecution as it represents the first case of its kind to be successfully brought before and ultimately prosecuted by the ICC concerning the destruction of historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion. 

Speaking in response to today's ruling, El Boukhari Ben Essayouti, Head of the Cultural Mission of Timbuktu stated he hoped this trail has been an important lesson, not just to Ahmad al Faqi al Mahdi but to others who would destroy culture.  He was quoted as saying that he hoped this trial “has to be useful for something, showing to everyone that in the same way that we cannot kill another person with impunity, we cannot just destroy a world heritage site with impunity either.”