THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — International Criminal Court appeals judges have cut by two years the sentence of an Islamic radical who pleaded guilty to overseeing the destruction of historic mausoleums in the Malian desert city of Timbuktu, the court announced Thursday.
Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, a former teacher, was sentenced to nine years in 2016 for the war crime of intentionally attacking buildings of a religious and historical character. He pleaded guilty and expressed remorse for his role in the destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque door by pickax-wielding rebels in June and July of 2012.
He is now set to complete his sentence on Sept. 18, 2022.
In a heavily redacted decision, the panel of judges cited as a reason for cutting his sentence Al Mahdi's continued cooperation with prosecutors at the court after his conviction.
Mali had opposed any reduction, arguing that “the people of Mali as a whole and the people of Timbuktu have not fully healed from the wounds caused by the misdeeds” he committed, according to court papers.
Al Mahdi's conviction was the first at the global court for destruction of religious buildings or historic monuments, and the first guilty verdict delivered against a Muslim extremist.
Al-Qaida-linked rebels occupied the fabled Saharan city of Timbuktu in 2012 and enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law under which they destroyed the historic mud-brick tombs they considered idolatrous. Al Mahdi was leader of one of the “morality brigades” set up by Timbuktu’s new rulers.
ICC prosecutors said Al Mahdi was a member of Ansar Eddine, an Islamic extremist group with links to al-Qaida that held power in northern Mali in 2012. The militants were driven out after nearly a year by French forces, which arrested Al Mahdi in 2014 in neighboring Niger.