FaithWorld

Mali Islamists bulldoze more Sufi tombs in Timbuktu

(A general view shows the Tomb of Askia, which was built in 1485 for the burial of Toure, the ancient king of the Songhai Empire, in the northeastern Malian city of Gao September 6, 2012. REUTERS/Adama Diarra)

Heavily armed Islamists bulldozed the tombs of three local Sufi saints near Mali’s desert city of Timbuktu on Thursday, residents said, the latest in a series of attacks in the rebel-held north that critics say threaten its cultural heritage.

“They arrived aboard six or seven vehicles, heavily armed,” said Garba Maiga, a resident of Timbuktu, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its ancient shrines. “They flattened everything with a bulldozer and pulled up the skeletal remains.”

Residents said the tombs destroyed included those of local saints Cheick Nouh, Cheick Ousmane el Kabir, and Cheick Mohamed Foulani Macina, several kilometers (miles) outside of the city gates. They said the rebels were from Ansar Dine, one of a mixture of Islamist groups now in control of northern Mali.

The destruction of the tombs follows an attack on another shrine outside Timbuktu at the end of September and several others in July.

Mali’s Ansar Dine Islamists destroy holy Sufi sites in Timbuktu

(Sankore mosque in Timbuktu, December 2006/P Senani) )

Al Qaeda-linked Mali Islamists armed with Kalashnikovs and pick-axes destroyed centuries-old mausoleums of saints in the UNESCO-listed city of Timbuktu on Saturday in front of shocked locals, witnesses said.

The Islamist Ansar Dine group backs strict sharia, Islamic law, and considers the shrines of the local Sufi version of Islam to be idolatrous. Sufi shrines have also been attacked by hard-line Salafists in Egypt and Libya in the past year.

The attack came just days after UNESCO placed Timbuktu on its list of heritage sites in danger and will recall the 2001 dynamiting by the Taliban of two 6th-century statues of Buddha carved into a cliff in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan.