For the first time in history, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has recognized the destruction of architecture as a war crime. In a groundbreaking case, prosecutors at the ICC put Islamic extremist Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi on trial for acts of cultural destruction: the demolition of historic mausoleums in Mali’s Timbuktu.
Al-Mahdi plead guilty to the charges on August 22, admitting that he lead a group of Islamic militants on a campaign to destroy the majority of Timbuktu’s medieval mausoleums. Only two of the city’s sixteen historic Sufi tombs remained intact. Al-Mahdi was a member of the al-Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar Dine, which imposed Islamic law on Timbuktu after capturing it in 2012. The group also destroyed the ancient Sidi Yahya mosque, built in 1440.
The mausoleums and mosque were a part of the UNESCO World Heritage site called the "city of 333 saints." In the last several years, UNESCO has helped to rebuild several of the lost structures.
Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said that such destruction "is tantamount to an assault on people's history. It robs future generations of their landmarks and their heritage."