The International Criminal Court (ICC) has convicted former Malian Islamic leader Ahmed Al Faqi Al Mahdi of a single war crime of destroying historic and religious buildings in the northern Mali city of Timbuktu four years ago.
In a unanimous judgement made on Tuesday, Trial Chamber VIII sentenced Al Faqi to nine years in prison. Presiding Judge Raul C. Pangalangan said the chamber found that the guilty plea Al Faqi made in August this year was supported by the facts.
By sentencing Al Faqi to nine years imprisonment, the chamber was upholding the sentence range the prosecution, Al Faqi, and his lawyers had agreed to in a plea deal they all signed on February 25 this year. A redacted version of the agreement was only made public on August 19, three days before Al Faqi’s trial began. In that deal, the prosecution and defense agreed not to appeal the chamber’s judgement or sentence if Al Faqi was convicted to between nine and 11 years in prison.
Trial Chamber VIII’s judgement marks a number of firsts for the ICC. It is the first time a plea agreement has been negotiated between the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor and defense and then upheld by the court.
“This admission of guilt undoubtedly contributed to the rapid resolution of this case, thus saving the Court’s time and resources and relieving witnesses and victims of what can be a stressful burden of giving evidence in Court,” said Judge Pangalangan, who read a summary of the judgement in open court. The other two members of the bench, Judges Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua and Bertram Schmitt, were also present in court on Tuesday.
Al Faqi’s trial is the shortest in the ICC’s history. The hearings concluded on August 24 this year after only three days, and it was only in September last year that Niger handed over Al Faqi to the ICC. This is also the first time the court has found someone guilty of the war crime of destroying buildings. Furthermore, it is the first time that a former Islamic leader has been tried and found guilty by the ICC.
Judge Pangalangan said the chamber was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Al Faqi was involved in the planning and participated in the attacks on nine mausoleums and a door of a mosque in Timbuktu between June 30, 2012 and July 11, 2012. The judge said the chamber found that Al Faqi was the leader of the morality brigade, or Hisbah, which was one of four primary institutions established by the extremist Islamic groups Ansar Eddine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb when they controlled Timbuktu in 2012.
The buildings Al Faqi is guilty of destroying are: the Sidi Mahamoud Ben Omar Mohamed Aquit Mausoleum; the Sheikh Mohamed Mahmoud Al Arawani Mausoleum; the Sheikh Sidi El Mokhtar Ben Sidi Mouhammad Al Kabir Al Kounti Mausoleum; the Alpha Moya Mausoleum; the Sheikh Mouhamad El Mikki Mausoleum; the Sheikh Abdoul Kassim Attouaty Mausoleum; the Sheikh Sidi Ahmed Ben Amar Arragadi; the Ahmed Fulane Mausoleum and the Bahaber Babadie Mausoleum, both adjoining the Djingareyber Mosque. The door of the Sidi Yahia Mosque was also destroyed.
“In respect of the attack, the chamber finds that he [Al Faqi] exercised joint control over the attack and was fully implicated in its execution,” said Judge Pangalangan. He said that the chamber found that Al Faqi was present at all the attack sites and gave instructions to the attackers.
“He was responsible for communicating to journalists to explain and justify the attack,” said Judge Pangalangan.
The judge said that the chamber found Al Faqi was responsible for the crime as a co-perpetrator as provided for in Article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding law. Judge Pangalangan said the prosecution had asked he be found criminally responsible according to three other provisions of Article 25(3), but the judges considered that one provision was sufficient.
In reaching the sentence against Al Faqi, Judge Pangalangan said the chamber took into account five factors. The judge said the chamber considered the fact that Al Faqi admitted guilt, did not hesitate to cooperate with the prosecution, and showed remorse and empathy for the victims of his crime. Judge Pangalangan said the chamber noted that in pleading guilty and cooperating with the prosecution, Al Faqi put the security of his family at risk.
The chamber also considered the fact that Al Faqi initially showed reluctance to participate in the destruction of the buildings and even when he did participate he took steps to limit the damage of those attacks by dissuading the attackers from using bulldozers, except in one case, and asking for the graves not to be disturbed.
The chamber also considered the gravity of the crime in deciding what sentence to give Al Faqi, said Judge Pangalangan, adding that Al Faqi was not charged with crimes against persons.
“In the view of the Chamber, even if inherently grave, crimes against property are generally less grave than crimes against persons,” said the judge.
“Taking into account all these factors the chamber unanimously sentences you to nine years of imprisonment,” Judge Pangalangan told Al Faqi who he had asked to stand as he read the chamber’s sentencing decision. The judge said the time Al Faqi has served in detention at the ICC will be deducted from his sentence.