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Mali militant jailed for nine years for Timbuktu shrine attacks

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi confessed in August to destroying ancient shrines, saying he was really 'sorry'
A burnt ancient manuscript at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu (Reuters)

War crimes judges on Tuesday sentenced a former militant who admitted wrecking holy shrines during Mali's 2012 conflict to nine years in prison, in the first such case to focus on destruction of cultural heritage.

During a brief trial at the International Criminal Court in August Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi asked for forgiveness and said he had been swept up in an "evil wave" by al-Qaeda and the Ansar Dine groups that briefly seized control of the ancient sites.

In June and July of 2012 "10 of the most important and well-known sites in Timbuktu were attacked and destroyed. ... a war activity aimed at breaking the soul of the people," said presiding Judge Raul Pangalangan.

Prosecutors had demanded a sentence of 9 to 11 years for al-Mahdi, who sat quietly in a gray suit, nodding as the verdict was read aloud.

Judges said the sentence took into account al-Mahdi's expression of remorse and cooperation with the court.

Mahdi admitted to involvement in the destruction of key historic mausoleums and religious sites in Timbuktu dating from Mali's 14th-century golden age as a trading hub and centre of Sufi Islam, a branch of the religion seen as idolatrous by some hardline Muslim groups.

This file photo taken on August 22, 2016 shows alleged Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist leader Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi looking on during an appearance at the International Criminal Court in The Hague (AFP)