Alleged Al-Qaeda-linked militant Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi pleaded guilty for the destruction of cultural heritage sites in the ancient city of Timbuktu during the 2012 conflict in Mali, international prosecutors said on Monday.
“I am really sorry, I am really remorseful, and I regret all the damage that my actions have caused," al-Mahdi said in the landmark trial at the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC).
"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," he added.
The trial has an historic importance due to the first time that the court in the Hague has tried a case of cultural destruction.
"This crime affects the soul and spirit of the people," said prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.
According to prosecutors Mahdi was a member of Ansar Dine, a militant group which has a close tie with Al Qaeda in the region occupied Timbuktu for months.
The group destroyed nine Timbuktu mausoleums and also a famous mosque called Sidi Yahya using pickaxes and chisels following the siege of the city in April 2012.
The mausoleums of Muslim saints located in Timbuktu which is known as the "City of 333 Saints" date back to 15 th and 16th centuries.
The city itself also played a key role in the spread of Islam across the continent.
The militants attacked the shrines, as well as priceless ancient manuscripts finding them idolatrous and un-islamic.
The damaged shrines had been under reconstruction since March 2014 with the contributions of several countries and organisations,including UNESCO.
In July 2015, all the works were completed and the shrines were opened with a ceremony held on February 4, 2016.