The International Criminal Court has sentenced a former Islamist militant leader to nine years in prison for overseeing the destruction of the World Heritage Site of Timbuktu in the West African nation of Mali.
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a former teacher, had pleaded guilty to wrecking centuries-old mausoleums in the Malian city of Timbuktu, which prompted the court to give him a shorter sentence than the 30 years possible for a war crime.
The court found him guilty of ordering the destruction of historical and religious monuments in Timbuktu between June 30 and July 11, 2012.
The judges in The Hague said he was actively involved in the desecration of the site. Video footage shown during the trial showed al-Mahdi destroying a wall with the help of a pickaxe.
Al-Mahdi took part in the destruction of nine saints' tombs and a mosque from the Middle Ages as part of Ansar Eddine, a terrorist group associated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The case is the first to address the charge of destroying world cultural heritage, a crime under international law. It is also the first case at the court to involve a suspected jihadist.
"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, director general of UNESCO, in a statement.
The UN body said the protection of cultural heritage had become a security concern, with Bokova adding that "in the context of repeated violence against people and their heritage, this sentence of the International Criminal Court is a key element in the broader response to violent extremism."