Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi an Islamic fanatic has pleaded guilty to war crimes for his part in the destruction of historic monuments in the city of Timbuktu in northern Mali. Al-Mahdi is accused of ordering the razing of nine mausoleums and the 15th-century Sidi Yahia mosque. It is the first time the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has heard a case about the demolition of cultural heritage. Al-Mahdi belonged to Islamist group Ansar Dine, who have links to al-Qaeda. They also claim he led an anti-vice squad called Hesbah, which helped enforce sharia law on behalf of the Islamic court of Timbuktu during the Mali conflict in 2012 and 2013. Al-Mahdi described himself at a court hearing last September as a graduate of the teachers’ institute in Timbuktu and a civil servant in Mali’s education department.
Situ Research, a New York-based design studio which develops visual evidence by documenting ancient sites,has helped to compile the evidence for the trial. The new platform allows the court to look at photographs and videos taken by locals and TV networks before, during and after the ancient sites were vandalised. Drawings of the buildings will also be presented as evidence, while satellite imagery will show the scale of the systematic destruction. “The interactive tool is the primary vehicle for presenting the evidence of destroyed cultural heritage in this case,” a spokesperson for Situ Research, explained.
The buildings destroyed were part of the Unesco World Heritage site dubbed the city of 333 saints and considered blasphemous by the jihadis. Around 4,000 ancient manuscripts were also lost, burned or stolen. Over the past few years, Unesco has rebuilt many of Timbuktu’s mausoleums.
Photo: courtesy (UNESCO). UN Photo/Marco Dorm