March 24, 2016 / 6:48 PM / 2 years ago

ICC suspect Al Mahdi admits guilt over Timbuktu destruction

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - A Tuareg Islamist rebel charged by the International Criminal Court with desecrating priceless monuments in the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu has told judges he wishes to plead guilty to the war crimes charges he faces, the ICC’s prosecutor said.

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a former teacher, was the first person charged by the international court with the crime of damaging humanity’s common cultural heritage. He led militias which defaced ancient mosques and tombs in the desert city, a center of learning and a trading hub in the 15th century.

In a statement on Thursday, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Al Mahdi had expressed the wish to plead guilty during a closed session of the court on March 1, but that this fact could only be made public now.

His trial must still proceed while judges decide how to accommodate his wish to plead guilty. “The magnitude of the loss of such irreplaceable physical embodiment of history and culture was felt by the whole of humanity, and at the expense of future generations,” Bensouda said.

Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Catherine Evans

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