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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Mali extremist ordered to pay €2.7 million on Timbuktu rampage

The venerated landmarks were attacked on the orders of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, a now-repentant extremist

The  15th century Sidi Yahya mosque in Timbuktu, which smashed by extremists in 2012 and has now been restored to its former glory in this image taken on September 19, 2016. The man who ordered the destruction, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, was jailed for nine years in September 2016. Sebastien Rieussec / AFP
The 15th century Sidi Yahya mosque in Timbuktu, which smashed by extremists in 2012 and has now been restored to its former glory in this image taken on September 19, 2016. The man who ordered the destruction, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, was jailed for nine years in September 2016. Sebastien Rieussec / AFP

A Muslim radical found guilty of destroying World Heritage cultural sites in the Malian city of Timbuktu must pay €2.7 million (Dh11.6m) in reparations, the International Criminal court ruled on Thursday.

Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi had intentionally directed attacks against nine mausoleums and a mosque door in 2012, the court in The Hague found.

It ordered him to pay for damages to the buildings, economic losses and moral harm to victims — primarily the people of Timbuktu, who depend on tourism.

At previous hearings, Al Mahdi pleaded guilty and expressed remorse for his role in leading the destruction and urged Muslims around the world not to commit similar acts. He was jailed for nine years in September 2016 after he pleaded guilty to directing attacks on the world heritage site and apologised to the Timbuktu community.

Al Mahdi led rebels who used pickaxes and bulldozers to wreck nine mausoleums and the centuries-old door of the Sidi Yahya mosque, part of a golden age of Islam after over-running northern Mali in June and July 2012.

The sites that were attacked — all but one of them on the World Heritage list — were built during the 15th and 16th centuries at a time when Timbuktu was considered a great centre of Islamic learning.

The assault on the Unesco world heritage site triggered global outrage, but also led to a legal precedent.

The ICC's decision to jail Al Mahdi in September's landmark verdict was the first arising out of the conflict in Mali, and the first time a jihadist had sat in the dock.

It was also the first to come before the ICC as a crime of cultural destruction.

Al Mahdi was a member of Ansar Dine, one of the Al Qaeda-linked groups which seized territory in northern Mali before being mostly chased out by a French-led military intervention in January 2013.

The court also ordered Al Mahdi to pay the symbolic sum of €1 to Mali and €1 to the international community via Unesco, which is responsible for World Heritage site cultural listings.

While it acknowledged that he is poor, the court called the reparations "reasonable" and said the burden of paying would not make it impossible for him to reintegrate into society. It encouraged a trust fund set up for victims to help pay the damages.

The ICC said the destruction of cultural monuments like those in Timbuktu "carries a message of terror and helplessness".

"[It] destroys part of humanity's shared memory and collective consciousness, and renders humanity unable to transmit its values and knowledge to future generations," it said.

The shrines have now been restored using traditional methods and local masons, in a project financed by several countries as well as Unesco.

The reparations will only be the second such award in the history of the court since it began work in 2002.

In March, the ICC awarded symbolic damages of €212 to each of the 297 victims of former Congolese warlord Germain Katanga, who is serving 12 years for a 2003 attack on a village.

A spokesman for Unesco said the ruling by The Hague was "definitely a landmark case and a precedent."

Although UN conventions have been in place since 1954 regarding the protection of culture in territories of armed conflict , this case "represents the first trial to treat the destruction of cultural heritage as a war crime in history."

Even Nazi war criminals on trial in Nuremberg after the Second World War were charged with theft of cultural property, not the destruction of heritage.

Unesco was not a plaintiff in the case. Charges were pressed by the government of Mali, the spokesman said.

Asked whether the success of the Mali case opened the door for Unesco to initiate similar prosecutions in the future, the spokesman said, "We never speculate about the future. But it is a step forward."