Al-Qaida linked fighters destroy 'end of the world' gate in Timbuktu
AFP - Getty Images
still from a video shows Islamist militants destroying an ancient
shrine in Timbuktu on Sunday. The hardline Islamists who seized control
of Timbuktu along with the rest of northern Mali three months ago,
consider the shrines to be idolatrous.
cultural body UNESCO was set to create a special fund to protect Mali's
heritage on Tuesday after al-Qaida-linked Islamists attacked historic
and religious landmarks in the city of Timbuktu for a third day,
breaking down the door to a 15th century mosque that -- according to
legend -- had to remain shut until the end of the world.
committee also called for a mission to go to Mali to work with local and
national leaders to stop what it called "wanton destruction."
"In legend, it is said that the main gate of Sidi Yahya mosque will
not be opened until the last day (of the world)," Alpha Abdoulahi, the
town imam, told Reuters by telephone.
Yet Islamists intent on erasing traces of what some regard as
un-Islamic idolatry smashed down the door to the mosque early on Monday,
saying they wanted to "destroy the mystery" of the ancient entrance, he
"They offered me 50,000 CFA ($100) for repairs but I
refused to take the money, saying that what they did is irreparable,"
In a statement emailed to msnbc.com Tuesday,
UNESCO's World Heritage Committee called for a series of measures to
help save Mali's ancient sites and condemned the "repugnant" destruction
of Timbuktu's mausoleums.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has appealed for a halt to the attacks.
AFP - Getty Images
still from a video shows an Islamist militant celebrating and shouting
after destroying an ancient shrine in Timbuktu on Sunday.
are mausoleums, there are mosques, there are manuscripts which
represent enormous value for humanity and it is totally unacceptable
what is happening there," Bokova said on Monday.
U.N. body seeks to protect places around the world it classifies as
world heritage sites, arguing they are of special cultural significance
and should be preserved for posterity.
government in the capital Bamako about 630 miles south has condemned
the destruction, but is powerless to halt them after its army was routed
by rebels in April. It is still struggling to bolster a return to
civilian rule after a March 22 coup that emboldened the rebel uprising
The attacks have been widely condemned inside Mali as well.
333 saints would be turning in their graves," the country's Les Echos
newspaper wrote on Monday, referring to 333 revered Sufi imams, sheiks
and scholars buried in Timbuktu.
the first installment of Rock Center's Hidden Planet series, Richard
Engel travels to Mali, on the edge of the Sahara desert, to discover the
city of Timbuktu.
"Today there are old women, old people
in Timbuktu who say that maybe it is the end of the world," entrepreneur
and former Timbuktu resident Male Dioum told Reuters.
of the Ansar Dine group say the centuries-old shrines of the local Sufi
version of Islam in Timbuktu are idolatrous. They have so far destroyed
at least eight of 16 listed mausoleums in the city, together with a
number of tombs.
Ansar Dine and well-armed allies, including
al-Qaida splinter group MUJWA, have hijacked a separatist uprising by
local Tuareg MNLA rebels and now control two-thirds of Mali's desert
north, territory that includes the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.
Romaric Ollo Hien / AFP - Getty Images, file
rebels approach Timbuktu in rebel-held northern Mali in April.
"Members of AQIM, supported by (the armed Islamist group) Ansar Dine,
have destroyed the tomb of Saint Sidi (Mahmoud Ben) Amar. They set fire
to the tomb," an official told AFP in on May 5 on condition of
anonymity. "They promised to destroy other tombs, Timbuktu is in shock.
Now they want to take and control other tombs and manuscripts," the
The size of the area under their control is bigger than France, heightening fears that Mali will become a jihadist haven.
MNLA rebels criticized the Islamists' destruction of holy sites,
underlining a growing rift between the two groups that had formed an
uneasy alliance to take over the north of the country.
perpetrators of these heinous acts, their sponsors, and those who
support them must be made accountable," MNLA spokesman Hama Ag Mahmoud
told Reuters in an interview in Nouakchott.
shrines have been attacked by hardline Salafists in Egypt and Libya in
the past year. The attacks also recall the 2001 dynamiting by the
Taliban of two 6th-century statues of Buddha carved into a cliff in
Bamiyan in central Afghanistan.
According to Time magazine,
those who adhere to a more orthodox brand of Islam tend to harbor a
particular animosity to Sufism, who have a more mystical interpretation
of the divine and a faith that is often rooted in pre-Islamic traditions
and a reverence for saints and dead wise men.
Located on an old
Saharan trading route that saw salt from the Arab north exchanged for
gold and slaves from black Africa to the south, Timbuktu blossomed in
the 16th century as an Islamic seat of learning, home to priests,
scribes and jurists.
In recent years, Mali had sought to create a
desert tourism industry around Timbuktu. But even before April's
rebellion many tourists were being discouraged by a spate of kidnappings
of Westerners in the region claimed by al-Qaida-linked groups.
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