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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — An Islamic extremist pleaded guilty Monday at the International Criminal Court and expressed "deep regret" for destroying historic mausoleums in the Malian desert city of Timbuktu.
Wearing a dark suit and striped tie, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi stood and calmly told judges he was entering the guilty plea "with deep regret and great pain" and advised Muslims around the world not to commit similar acts, saying "they are not going to lead to any good for humanity."
Al Mahdi led a group of radicals that destroyed 14 of Timbuktu's 16 mausoleums in 2012 because they considered them totems of idolatry. The one-room structures that house the tombs of the city's great thinkers were on the World Heritage list.
Al Mahdi was the first suspect to face an ICC charge of deliberately attacking religious or historical monuments and became the first person to plead guilty at the court since its establishment in 2002.
Prosecutors say Al Mahdi was a member of Ansar Dine, an Islamic extremist group with links to al-Qaida that held power in northern Mali in 2012. The militants were driven out after nearly a year by French forces, which arrested Al Mahdi in 2014 in neighboring Niger.
His trial is scheduled to last a week, with prosecutors presenting judges with evidence of the crimes and his defense lawyer also planning a presentation. Judges will issue a formal verdict and pass sentence at a later hearing. Al Mahdi faces a maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment, but prosecutors say they will seek a sentence of nine to 11 years.
Al Mahdi told the three-judge panel he hopes his time in prison "will be a source of purging the evil spirits that had overtaken me."