Man who destroyed artifacts in Mali gets nine years in prison

File photo of Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi (center) at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, by Patrick Post/Pool via Reuters

The International Criminal Court on Tuesday sentenced an Islamic militant to nine years in prison for destroying artifacts and religious buildings in Timbuktu, Mali.

It was the first time the court has convicted someone of war crimes for the destruction of cultural heritage.

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi admitted guilt when he appeared before The Hague court last month.

The international body had alleged al-Mahdi was part of a militant group linked to al-Qaida that attacked 10 historic and religious monuments in Timbuktu in 2012.

The group, Ansar Din, took control of Timbuktu that year and imposed its own version of religious rules and laws.

During that time, al-Mahdi ordered his fellow militants to destroy the shrines of Sufi saints.

"The mausoleums of saints and mosques of Timbuktu were an integral part of the religious life of its inhabitants and constitute a common heritage for the community. They reflected their commitment to Islam and played a psychological role to the extent of being perceived as protecting the people of Timbuktu," the International Criminal Court said in a statement outlining its decision.

The international court said it considered other factors when considering al-Mahdi's sentence, including his admission of guilt and remorse for the victims.

"The decision of the International Criminal Court is a landmark in gaining recognition for the importance of heritage for humanity as a whole and for the communities that have preserved it over the centuries," said Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, in a statement.

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