Symbolic euro given for destruction of Timbuktu mausoleums

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A symbolic euro was handed over on Tuesday to the government of Mali and UNESCO for damage inflicted by Islamists who wrecked Timbuktu's World Heritage-listed mausoleums in 2012.

The ruling on the award had been handed down in 2016 following a landmark trial before the International Criminal Court, which for the first time charged an individual with war crimes against historic and cultural monuments.

The symbolic euro given during a ceremony in the Malian capital Bamako marks "the crowning achievement of a judicial decision that punishes as war crimes the destruction of cultural monuments," said Mali's transitional president, Bah Ndaw, adding that the court case must serve as an example.

Mama Dolite Doubia, who heads a trust fund for victims, for her part said the euro was "an immeasurable symbol of the harm that we all suffered and of our will to say 'never again'."

Fatou Bensouda, the ICC's chief prosecutor, said the case represented the international community's commitment to "defend the foundation of our common identity."

She said Mali's cultural heritage "is a mirror of humanity" and such attacks would not go unpunished.

The Hague-based ICC in 2016 sentenced Ahmad al Faqi al Mahdi to nine years in prison for leading jihadists who destroyed nine mausoleums.

He was a member of Ansar Eddine -- one of the extremist groups that oversaw a reign of terror in the fabled city for almost a year from early 2012.

Dubbed "The City of 333 saints", Timbuktu's shrines were built in the 15th and 16th centuries when the city was revered as a centre of Islamic learning and a spiritual hub.

The jihadists were angered by the long-held practice of worshipping at the shrines, which they considered idolatrous.

The ICC found that Mahdi was liable for 2.7 million euros ($3.17 million) in damages which it said should go to the local community protecting the sites.

The shrines were placed on UNESCO's World Heritage list in 1988.

The symbolic euro is a token of the need for redress.

The shrines have been restored using traditional methods and local masons, in a project financed by several countries as well as UNESCO.

Harber Kounta, a representative of victims in Timbuktu, welcomed the ICC's landmark ruling awarding millions in reparations but stressed that the desert city's architectural heritage was still at risk because of pollution, lack of funds and urbanisation.

Another Islamist extremist -- Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud -- who was considered the head of the jihadist police in Timbuktu, went on trial before the ICC in July of last year.

He is accused of having taken part in the destruction of the mausoleums as well as crimes against humanity, torture, rape, sexual slavery and other inhumane acts including forced marriages.