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Malian extremist apologizes to world court for Timbuktu destruction

Published: Updated:

A Malian extremist apologized on Tuesday for his role in destroying the fabled shrines of Timbuktu as he asked judges at the International Criminal Court to release him from prison.

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, who was sentenced to nine years imprisonment in 2016, was a changed man who had learned to play guitar and to sew while in jail, his lawyer told the ICC.

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“I stand before you today to express to the whole world my remorse, my sadness and my regret for all the crimes I have committed in the past and the damage resulting from these crimes,” al-Mahdi told the court.

“I assure you that I have completely separated myself from the world of crime and I will never return,” added al-Mahdi, who had cut his long curly hair short and shaved his beard for the hearing.

Al-Mahdi was the first person to be convicted by the ICC for the war crime of attacking a nation’s cultural heritage, over the destruction of the UNESCO world heritage site at Timbuktu.

The town was occupied by the extremist group Ansar Dine, one of the al-Qaida-linked groups which controlled Mali for around 10 months in 2012 before being driven out by a French-led international intervention.

They took pickaxes to 14 of the town’s famous mausoleums of Muslim saints.

“Mr al-Mahdi has spent six years in detention and during those six years, he has become a much better person... he is not the same person he was when he arrived in The Hague,” his lawyer Mohamed Aouini told the court.

“He has learned French, English, computers and maths in the detention center; he has learned to cook, to sew, and to play piano and guitar,” he said.

Prosecutors said they would be inclined to look favorably on a reduction in his sentence.

The ICC has estimated the value of the damage caused by al-Mahdi at 2.7 million euros ($3.1 million).

Read more: UNESCO needs more money to restore Timbuktu’s cultural treasures