The burning of a library housing thousands of ancient manuscripts in Mali’s desert city of Timbuktu is just the latest act of destruction by Islamist fighters who have spent months smashing graves and holy shrines in the World Heritage site.
The United Nations cultural body UNESCO said it was trying to find out the precise damage done to the Ahmed Baba Institute, a modern building that contains priceless documents dating back to the 13th century.
The manuscripts are “uniquely valuable and testify to a long tradition of learning and cultural exchange,” said UNESCO spokesman Roni Amelan. “So we are horrified.”
But if they are horrified, historians and religious scholars are unlikely to have been surprised by this gesture of defiance by Islamist rebels fleeing the ancient trading post on the threshold of the Sahara as French and Malian troops moved in.