Islamist extremists known as Ansar Dine have destroyed ancient tombs, mausoleums and mosques in the legendary city of Timbuktu and a spokesperson for the faction has promised that they will not stop until all mausoleums have been destroyed.
Mausoleums of Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi Moctar and Alpha Moya have been ruined, and al-Qaeda-linked Islamists have broken down a door to a 15th century mosque, that legend said was to remain shut until the end of time, leading elders in the community to speculate that it might be the end of the world. The gate was destroyed in order to "destroy the mystery" of the entrance, and to teach people to put their whole faith in the Qur’an.
Shamil Jeppie, who heads the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project at the University of Cape Town in South Africa says that the Wahabi interpretation of Islam that Ansar Dine, like the Taliban, espouses is a narrow version of the faith, and stands in contrast to what he says is the history of Islamic learning.
"This is tragic news for us all and even more so for the inhabitants of Timbuktu who have cherished and preserved this monument over more than seven centuries," UNESCO session chairwoman Yeleonor Mitrofanova said of the destruction.
Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia have been added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, and neighbours of Mali have been asked to prevent the trafficking of cultural objects such as manuscripts from these sites.
Earlier this week, the World Heritage Committee condemned the destruction of Mali’s heritage sites.
The UN cultural body referred to these "repugnant acts" of destruction, while citing its decision to set up an emergency fund to help Mali conserve its cultural heritage.