Ahmad al Faqi al Mahdi, aged around 40, said he was "really sorry" for his actions and asked to be forgiven, the BBC reported. He appeared at The Hague in the Netherlands on Monday, accused of leading rebel forces who destroyed nine mausoleums and a mosque with pickaxes and iron bars in 2012.
This is the first time a suspected Islamist militant has been charged by the ICC on a charge of cultural destruction, and the first time a suspect has pleaded guilty. According to the U.K.'s Sky News, al Mahdi told the judge that the details of his charge were "regrettably... accurate and reflect[ed] the events".
He added that he was pleading guilty "with deep regret and deep pain" and that if he were to "give a piece of advice to all Muslims in the world", it would be to "not to get involved in the same acts I got involved in." ISIS militants have destroyed relics and cultural sites in Syria, most notably the ancient city of Palmyra.
Court documents state that the buildings in Mali were "regarded and protected as a significant part of the cultural heritage of Timbuktu" and that "the community in Timbuktu was involved in their maintenance and used them for their religious practices".
At the time of their destruction, the cemeteries were classified as world heritage sites, and under the protection of UNESCO.