The restored Sidi Yahia mosque in Timbuktu was unveiled this week in a ceremony attended by about 100 Mali political and religious leaders, the AFP reports. The 15th-century mosque, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1998, was damaged by jihadists in 2012.
UNESCO specialists spent five months this year restoring the “secret door” of Sidi Yahia, which following tradition was to remain sealed until the end of the world. The symbolic 2012 attack by Islamic extremists who intended to “destroy the mystery” was part of a wider campaign targeting holy sites deemed idolatrous, in defiance of UNESCO pleas to protect them.
In a historic first, the destruction of the Timbuktu sites was successfully prosecuted as a war crime before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, a local ethnic Tuareg and member of the al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar Dine, was charged with directing attacks on 10 buildings. He has entered a guilty plea, with sentencing set for September 27. Al Mahdi faces up to 11 years in jail.
“What makes this crime so serious is the fact that it is a profound attack on the identity, the memory and, therefore, the future of entire populations,” said prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. The trial, he added, was indeed historic “in view of the destructive rage that marks our times” and affects all humanity.
Peace remains elusive in northern Mali, where Reuters reports 10 people died over the weekend in fighting between the Tuareg rebel coalition and pro-government forces.
Photo credit: UNESCO