Mali Islamist jailed for nine years for Timbuktu shrine attacks
The International Criminal Court has sentenced an Islamist militant who destroyed ancient shrines in Timbuktu to nine years in jail.
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi admitted to leading rebel forces who destroyed historic mausoleums at the world heritage site in Mali in 2012.
Judges at the court in The Hague found he had shown "remorse and empathy" for the crime.
It is the first sentence based on cultural destruction as a war crime.
It is also the first time a suspected Islamist militant has stood trial at the ICC.
Mahdi - described as a "religious scholar" in court documents - led rebels who used pickaxes and crowbars to destroy nine of Timbuktu's mausoleums and the centuries-old door of the city's Sidi Yahia mosque.
The court found he not only offered "logistical and moral support" for the attacks, but also took part in the physical destruction of at least five out of the 10 buildings.
However, Mahdi had at first advised rebel leaders not to attack the shrines.
Admitting to the charges last month, Mahdi claimed he had been swept up in "an evil wave".
Pleading guilty, he said: "I am really sorry, I am really remorseful, and I regret all the damage that my actions have caused.
"I would like 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," he added
Rare ICC success: Analysis by Anna Holligan at The Hague
Wearing a grey suit, striped tie and spectacles, there was little sign of the violent jihadist responsible for destroying these treasured shrines.
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi was a member of a group with links to al-Qaeda and the leader of the morality police (a religious vice squad operating in Timbuktu during the rebel occupation).
According to the judge, he wrote a sermon dedicated to the destruction, gave instruction and tools to complete the operation. His confession, a well-considered apology and apparent willingness to co-operate with the court contributed to the nine year sentence.
While the case is being seen as a rare success for the ICC some of the victims in Mali say the charges don't cover some of the most devastating atrocities committed during the occupation - including violence against women, rape and sexual slavery.
Prosecutors said Mahdi was a member of Ansar Dine - an Islamist group with roots in the nomadic Tuareg group and links to al-Qaeda in the Maghreb - that occupied Timbuktu for months, instilling its own version of Sharia law on residents.
Islamists regard the shrines and the city's ancient manuscripts, covering everything from history to astronomy, as idolatrous.
The rebels decided to destroy the buildings after people continued to pray at the historic sites.
Mahdi led a series of planned attacks, starting with a sermon given during Friday prayers, and later gave press statements defending the actions.
However, his sentence was on the lower end of the scale after the ICC judges accepted a number of mitigating factors, including his confession.
Correspondents in Timbuktu, a Unesco world heritage site which had been a centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th Centuries, say the sentencing was generally welcomed.
One resident was more circumspect, telling the BBC he felt it difficult to forgive: "Forgiveness means coming here in Mali and asking for forgiveness to Malians and especially from the people of Timbuktu who suffered from the anger of jihadism.
"We will accept to forgive when Ahmad al-Faqi understands that this land is sacred, the shrines are sacred, and that understanding our culture is sacred."