Armed Islamists from a hardline group occupying lawless northern Mali on Saturday destroyed the shrine of a revered Muslim saint in Timbuktu and are attacking another, witnesses said.
âAs I am speaking to you, Islamists from Ansar Dine have destroyed the mausoleum of saint Sidi Mahmoud,â one witness told AFP from the fabled city of Timbuktu, which has been listed by UNESCO as an endangered world heritage site.
The saint's 15th-century tomb was also desecrated by extremist Islamists in May after groups including Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb seized control of the vast desert north following a March coup in Bamako.
âThey are now in the process of destroying the mausoleum (of Sidi Moctar),â said a local journalist. âThey have said they will destroy everything.â
Beyond its historic mosques, the World Heritage site of Timbuktu, once a cradle of Islamic learning, has 16 cemeteries and mausolea, according to the UNESCO website.
Sometimes called the city of 333 saints, Timbuktu is also home to nearly 100 000 ancient manuscripts, some dating back to the 12th century, preserved in family homes and private libraries under the care of religious scholars.
At its height in the 1500s, the city, a Niger River port at the edge of the Sahara 1000 kilometres (600 miles) north of Bamako, was the key intersection for salt traders travelling from the north and gold traders from the south. - Sapa-AFP IOLSA