A Malian jihadist on Monday asked the people of Mali for “forgiveness” after he pleaded guilty to ordering 2012 attacks on the fabled site of Timbuktu.
“I seek their forgiveness and I ask them to look at me as a son who has lost his way,” Ahmad al Faqi al Mahdi told the International Criminal Court.
As his unprecedented trial got under way in The Hague, Mahdi added he was “really sorry” and “remorseful” regretted “all the damage that my actions have caused”.
He pleaded guilty to intentionally ordering the attacks on nine shrines and the Sidi Yahia mosque between June 30 and July 11, 2012 when the jihadists seized control of part of northern Mali.
Mahdi, aged about 40, is also the first Islamic extremist charged by the ICC and the first person to face a solo allegation of cultural destruction.
“I would like to seek the pardon of all the whole people of Timbuktu,” he said, adding he also begged forgiveness from “the ancestors of the mausoleums I have destroyed”.
The attacks on the ancient shrines by jihadists triggered a global outcry, and archaeologists hope the trial will send a stern warning that such plundering of our common heritage will not go unpunished.
“I would like to make you a solemn promise that this was the first and the last wrongful act I will ever commit,” Madhi said.
The prosecutors revealed at the start of trial that they had made a deal with the defence team to ask for a jail term of nine to 11 years. In return, Mahdi said he would not appeal.
The judges recognised this, but also warned Mahdi that they were not necessarily bound by the deal and he faced a maximum term of 20 years.
Mahdi also distanced himself from the jihadists describing their acts as “evil”.
He said he wanted 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”.
After making his first court appearances in a white collarless shirt, Mahdi this time was dressed in a charcoal suit, with a striped blue shirt, and a blue-and-white striped tie.