After his trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Ahmad Al Mahdi, on 27 September 2016, appealed "to all Muslims in the world never to commit this kind of action [destroying cultural heritage], the consequences of which are terrible, have no justification and can generate no benefit”. We reproduce his statement in its entirety.
Thank you, your Honour,
Mr President, distinguished members of Chamber, ladies and gentlemen, I greet you all.
I would like to start by reminding myself of the words of the Almighty: “All ye who believe, stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah, even against yourselves, your parents or your next of kin”... the words of the Almighty.
I would like to remember the words of those who said that we need to speak with justice, even against ourselves. We have to be true to ourselves, even if that truthfulness would burn our hands.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is with deep regret and with great pain I had to enter a guilty plea. All the charges brought against me are accurate and correct. I am really sorry, I am really remorseful and I regret all the damage that my actions have caused. I regret what [pain] I have caused my family, my community in Timbuktu and to my home nation Mali, and I am really remorseful about what I have caused to the international community as a whole.
My regret is directed particularly to the ancestors of the holders of the mausoleums that I have destroyed. I would like to seek their pardon. I would like to seek the pardon of all the people of Timbuktu, I would like to make them a solemn promise that this was the first and the last wrongful act I will ever commit. I seek their forgiveness and I would like them to look at me as a son that has lost his way and consider me part of the social fabric of Timbuktu; they must not forget what I have contributed in the past to Timbuktu.
It is my hope that in accordance with the noble Islamic principles, they are able to forgive me and to accept my regret. I think if they were to do this, they would have fulfilled the words of God in the Koran, where we sing “those who forgive will be rewarded by the Almighty”.
[It seems] I was influenced by a group of deviant people from al Qaeda and Ansar Dine, and they were able to influence me, to carry me in their evil wave through actions that affected the whole population. But even with these temporary actions, I do not think that we will be able to change the heritage of the city of Timbuktu.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm willing to accept the judgement of the Chamber, but I will do so with pain and with a broken heart. I will be deprived of my freedom and I know I will not be able to see my loved ones. However, I am pinning my hope on the fact that the punishment that will be meted out to me will be sufficient enough for the people of Timbuktu to show forgiveness, and for the people of Mali to show forgiveness, and mankind to offer forgiveness. It is also my hope that the years I will spend in prison will be a way of purging the evil spirits that had overtaken me. And I will keep my hopes high that the people that I have hurt will be able to forgive me.
In conclusion, 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.
I would like to thank all parties at the ICC – the judges, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), the registry and staff of the detention centre – for dealing with me in such a civilized and respectable way, where human rights were upheld to the maximum. And I applaud the way they interviewed me and listened to my statement. In particular, I would like to thank my lawyer, Maître Mohamed Aouini, who decided to defend me in this case all the way.