Mali Islamists Destroy Ancient Timbuktu Sites

Posted July 2nd, 2012 at 5:45 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Islamist militants in Mali's historic city Timbuktu destroyed and damaged ancient sites for a third straight day, defying international threats of prosecution.

Witnesses say the al-Qaida-linked group Ansar Dine targeted the 15th-century Sidi Yahya mosque on Monday, tearing off the entrance door. The door is considered sacred and was to remain closed until the end of the world.

Timbuktu is home to 16 ancient mausoleums said to contain the remains of Muslim saints. The militants say Muslims should revere Allah, not saints, and are attacking the mausoleums with pickaxes and shovels.

Timbuktu is a United Nations World Heritage site. The head of the Africa unit of the U.N.'s World Heritage Center, Lazare Eloundou Assomo, described the situation to VOA as serious and sad and said it is a tragedy for the world.

“It is a tragedy for Africa because this heritage enables Africa to write its history. We understand African culture with Timbuktu treasures. There is no word for such action. It is unacceptable.”

Hamadoune Toure, a spokesman for Mali's interim government, told VOA the government is investigating whether it can file war crimes charges with the International Criminal Court.

“We know it is something unacceptable; it has nothing to do with religion. It's a violation of our culture, but they can do whatever they want. They cannot destroy the links we have with our people who are resting there in peace.”

The United States also denounced the attacks on the sites.

“The United States strongly condemns the destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Timbuktu by Islamist militants, including Ansar Dine. We call on all parties to protect Mali's cultural heritage.”

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland also called for a cease-fire among the warring parties in northern Mali, and said all armed groups should cooperate with regional bloc ECOWAS to resolve the situation.

Timbuktu served as a center of Islam in Africa during the 15th and 16th centuries. It is also home to thousands of ancient manuscripts stored in libraries and homes under the care of religious scholars.

Hardline Islamists seized control of northern Mali with Tuareg separatists earlier this year. But since then, the Islamist groups gained full control of the north's major cities, including Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal.

After a brief alliance, the Tuareg separatists and Islamist group split over what level of Sharia to impose.