9 Years for Destroyer of Timbuktu’s Treasures

     (CN) — In a first for war-crimes prosecution, Mali native Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi received a nine-year prison sentence for having laid waste to Sufi shrines four years ago in Timbuktu, the fabled “City of 333 Saints.”
     It has been more than a month since the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, brought a new type of war criminal on the dock.
     Born roughly 62 miles west of that storied city in 1975, Faqi belongs to a nomadic tribe of Berbers known as the Tuareg people. As civil war broke out in Northern Mali in early 2012, Faqi joined a group of al-Qaida-aligned separatists known as Ansar Dine.
     Among the rebels, Faqi headed its anti-vice unit known as the Manners’ Brigade, enforcing a fundamentalist Islamic code of morality and aesthetics. A more mystical form of Islam had inspired the shrines Faqi smashed, days after UNESCO declared those treasures endangered world heritage in June 2012.
     Faqi renounced his extremists beliefs in pleading guilty to the charges on Aug. 22 this year.
     “I would like to give a piece of advice to all Muslims in the world not to get involved in the same acts that I got involved in because they are not going to lead to any good for humanity,” Faqi told the tribunal at the time.
     Such repentance brought some mercy from the judges, who could have sentenced him for up to 30 years.
     State Department spokesman Mark Toner applauded the international enforcement of crimes against heritage.
     “As we have seen in Mali and other contexts, the destruction of cultural artifacts and monuments has been used as a tool to seek to terrorize, to erase history, and to eradicate the identities of communities,” Toner said in a statement. “These are assaults not just on a country and its people, but on the common cultural heritage of all humankind, and those responsible for these acts should face justice.”

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