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Leader who led gang to destroy Timbuktu shrines pleads guilty at ICC

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi
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An Islamist militant has admitted destroying cultural sites in Timbuktu, Mali, in the first trial of its kind at the International Criminal Court.

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi said he regretted his actions.

He was accused of leading rebel forces who destroyed historic shrines at the world heritage site in 2012.

It is 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 group that occupied Timbuktu for months. Islamists regard shrines as idolatrous.

He was handed over by Niger's government after the ICC issued a warrant for his arrest.

Mahdi told the ICC: "Your Honour, regrettably, I have to say that what I've heard so far is accurate and reflects events. I plead guilty."

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 are later due to share their experiences in court.

Human rights groups say their presence is especially significant in demonstrating how the destruction of cultural heritage not only harms buildings but tears through the social, cultural and historic fabric of communities.

At the time, Unesco said the attack on the shrines of local saints was "tragic news for us all".

Timbuktu is famous for its distinctive mud and wood architecture. It was a centre of Islamic learning between the 13th and 17th centuries and was added to the Unesco world heritage list in 1988.

Ansar Dine, an extremist militia with roots in the nomadic Tuareg people, has ties to al-Qaeda.

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