Mali Islamists attack shrines in Timbuktu
AL-QAEDA-linked Mali Islamists armed with AK-47s and pick-axes began destroying mausoleums of saints in the Unesco-listed city of Timbuktu yesterday.
The Islamist Ansar Dine group backs strict Sharia, Islamic law, and considers the shrines of the local Sufi version of Islam idolatrous. Sufi shrines have also been attacked by hardline Salafists in Egypt and Libya this year.
The attack came days after Unesco placed Timbuktu on its list of heritage sites at risk and echoes the 2001 blowing up by the Taleban of two sixth-century statues of Buddha carved into a cliff in Bamiyan, central Afghanistan.
Malian journalist Yeya Tandina said: “They are armed and have surrounded the sites with pick-up trucks. The population is just looking on helplessly.”
Ansar Dine has gained the upper hand over less well-armed Tuareg-led separatists since the two joined forces to rout government troops and seize control in April of the northern two-thirds of the West African state.
“The mausoleum doesn’t exist any more and the cemetery is as bare as a soccer pitch,” teacher Abdoulaye Boulahi said of the burial place of Sidi Mahmoud, a revered Sufi scholar.
“There’s about 30 of them breaking everything up with pick-axes and hoes. They’ve put their Kalashnikovs down by their sides. These are shocking scenes.”
Timbuktu member of parliament Sandy Haidara also confirmed the attacks were taking place, adding: “It looks as if it is a direct reaction to the Unesco decision.”
Located on an old Saharan trading route on which salt from the Arab north was traded for gold and slaves from black Africa to the south, Timbuktu blossomed in the 16th-century as an Islamic seat of learning, home to scribes and jurists.
Mali had sought to create a desert tourism industry around Timbuktu but even before April’s rebellion, many tourists were being discouraged by kidnappings claimed by al-Qaeda-linked groups.
Unesco’s World Heritage Committee said last week it had accepted the request of the Malian government to place Timbuktu on its list of endangered heritage sites.
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