Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi is seen on September 30, 2015, at the courtroom of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague the Netherlands. Robin van Lonkhuisen / Reuters

NEWS BRIEF Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi is the first Islamist militant to stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. He’s also the first person to ever plead guilty at the court. And the charges against him at the ICC are also a first: cultural destruction tied to his actions, and those of his rebels, at the historic city of Timbuktu.

“I am really sorry, I am really remorseful, and I regret all the damage that my actions have caused,” Mahdi said after he pleaded guilty. “I would like to give a piece of advice to all Muslims in the world, not to get involved in the same acts I got involved in, because they are not going to lead to any good for humanity.”

Born in 1975, about 60 miles west of the ancient Malian city he’s accused of destroying, Mahdi, a religious scholar, was allegedly a member of Ansar Eddine, a Tuareg movement linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The ICC documents say Mahdi directed Islamist fighters to destroy religious sites in Timbuktu with pickaxes and chisels between June and July 2012. The ICC issued a warrant for his arrest in September 2015 “for war crimes of intentionally directing attacks against historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion, including nine mausoleums and one mosque” in Timbuktu. One year later, he was transferred to the ICC by authorities in Niger.

Mahdi’s guilty plea will likely mean his trial will be over soon, perhaps by the end of this week. He faced up to 30 years in prison, but his attorneys, The Guardian reported, struck an agreement with the prosecutor’s office for a sentence of between nine and 11 years.

Timbuktu, which is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, was an intellectual and spiritual center of Islamic thought in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Islamist militant who overran the city in 2012 imposed a strict version of shariah law. They were eventually pushed out of Mali by French military intervention.  

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