(CN) — The International Criminal Court on Thursday ordered an extremist from Mali to pay $3.2 million in reparations for demolishing Sufi shrines that cemented Timbuktu’s reputation as the “City of 333 Saints.”
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi had been part of a band of Tuareg separatists who formed an offshoot of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb called Ansar Dine in 2012.
Heading Ansar Dine’s anti-vice unit, known as the “Manners’ Brigade,” Al Mahdi’s fundamentalist view of Islamic scripture inspired him to destroy the shrines of a mystical tradition that he viewed as heretical.
But Al Mahdi expressed remorse for those actions last year, pleading guilty in the first international criminal prosecutions for crimes against cultural heritage.
“I am really sorry, I am really remorseful and I regret all the damage that my actions have caused,” he told the chamber at the time. “I regret what I have caused to my family, my community in Timbuktu, what I have caused my home nation, Mali, and I’m really remorseful about what I had caused the international community as a whole.”
Previously sentenced to nine years in prison, Al Mahdi admitted to charges that he led pickax-wielding rebels to attack nine mud-brick mausoleums and one mosque, among the tombs and shrines of 333 mystical Islamic saints venerated by locals there since the 15th century.
A three-judge tribunal of the International Criminal Court made clear Thursday that the award had only been meant to compensate the affected communities.
“It is self-evident that the community of Timbuktu suffered disproportionately more harm as a result of the attack on the protected buildings,” its 61-page order states.
When the rebels took hold of Timbuktu, the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO quickly pronounced the fabled West African trading city an endangered heritage site in June 2012, days before Ansar Dine demolished the Sufi shrines.
But UNESCO will not claim any compensation for the award.
“The Chamber only received reparations applications pertaining to the community of Timbuktu – no application has been submitted solely for the interests of the national or international community beyond Timbuktu,” the judges wrote.
On top of the 2.7 million euros in reparations, the tribunal also ordered Al Mahdi to make a symbolic payment of one euro to the Malian government.
“Notably, UNESCO itself did not submit any application for reparation and stated instead that ‘local communities […] have been the principal victims,’” according to the order.
Presiding Judge Raul Pangalangan, from the Philippines, was joined on the panel by Judges Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua, from the Congo, and Bertram Schmitt, from Germany.
Noting that the indigent Al Mahdi will not be able to pay the fine, the chamber encouraged the world court’s Trust Funds for Victims to submit a plan to complement the reparations award by Feb. 16, 2018.
Created in 2002, the Trust Fund for Victims came into being the year the Rome Statute underpinning the international court came into force, as its vehicle for restorative justice.