Fighters from Ansar Dine, an al Qaeda-linked Islamist group in northern Mali, have destroyed historic Sufi shrines in the ancient desert city of Timbuktu, triggering international outcry.
Here are some facts about Ansar Dine and its leader, Iyad Ag Ghali:
* The name means “Defenders of the Faith” and it follows the puritanical form of Islam known as Salafism, which looks to the religion’s 7th-century origins as a guide to conduct.
* Along with Tuareg separatist movement MNLA, Ansar Dine and other Islamists were among rebels who seized northern Mali following a March 22 coup in the capital Bamako, in the south of the country, which paralysed the Western-backed Malian army.
* Diplomats say Ansar Dine – with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), originally from Algeria, and al Qaeda splinter group MUJWA – have hijacked the MNLA’s secular separatist uprising and now control two thirds of Mali’s desert north, territory that includes the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.