The International Criminal Court on Thursday ruled that a former Islamist rebel who was jailed for destroying sacred sites in Timbuktu in Mali should pay victims of the attacks more than $3.2 million in damages.
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, head of jihadist group Ansar Dine, who pleaded guilty to destroying nine mausoleums and a mosque in the West African nation, had already been sentenced in September last year to nine years in prison for “intentionally directing attacks” in 2012 against Sidi Yahia mosque and nine of the mausoleums in Timbuktu, in the north of the country.
The sites date back to Mali’s 14th-century golden age as a trading hub and cultural center.
These included the 16th Century mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud, who was the rector of Timbuktu’s world-famous Sankore University, and the shrine of Sidi Ahmed ar-Raqqad, who wrote a book on traditional pharmacology in the 17th Century and is credited with conjuring a spring that flowed until 1948.
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi case is the first concerning damage to cultural artefacts to be heard at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The Hague-based court ruled that he had caused damage, economic losses and moral harm to victims — primarily the people of Timbuktu.
His trial represents a significant benchmark, and a prototype for future prosecutions. It could be applied to those accused of destroying Palmyra in Syria or Nineveh in Iraq.