An Islamist militant has admitted destroying cultural sites in Timbuktu, Mali, in a landmark trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi said he was “really sorry” for his actions and asked for forgiveness.
He was accused of leading rebel forces who destroyed historic shrines at the world heritage site in 2012.
It is the first time that the court in The Hague has tried a case of cultural destruction.
It is also the first time a suspected Islamist militant has stood trial at the ICC and the first time a suspect has pleaded guilty.
Prosecutors said Mahdi was a member of Ansar Dine, an Islamist group that occupied Timbuktu for months.
Islamists regard the shrines and the city’s ancient manuscripts, covering everything from history to astronomy, as idolatrous.
Court documents describe Mahdi as a religious scholar who directed fighters to wreck several sites with pickaxes and chisels after failing to deter locals from praying at them.
He was charged with war crimes over the destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque.
Pleading guilty, he said: “I am really sorry, I am really remorseful, and I regret all the damage that my actions have caused.
“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
Given his guilty plea the trial will probably be over by the end of this week. He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail.
Nine victims are later due to share their experiences in court.
Human rights groups say their presence is especially significant in demonstrating how the destruction of cultural heritage not only harms buildings but tears through the social, cultural and historical fabric of communities.