(Students walk into the school near the shrine of 15th-century Sufi scholar Abdel Salam al-Asmar in Zlitan city, about 160 km (90 miles) west of Tripoli March 13, 2012. REUTERS/Anis Mili )

Mohamed Salem believes it was divine intervention that saved the Muslim holy site where he works from being destroyed.

In early March, word reached the keepers of the ornate shrine, the most important of its kind in Libya, that ultra-conservative Salafis were on their way to destroy it as part of a campaign to wipe out any symbols they see as idolatrous.

The curators sent for help. Volunteer militia units came from nearby towns. They surrounded the shrine complex – which houses the tomb of the 15th-century Sufi scholar Abdel Salam al-Asmar – with pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft weapons, and waited to repel the attack.

Then a sandstorm, rare at that time of year, whipped up and shrouded the mosque from view. The attack never came.