Defiant Mali Islamists continue to wreck historic sites | News | DW | 02.07.2012
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Defiant Mali Islamists continue to wreck historic sites

Al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine rebels have smashed in the door of a world heritage site mosque in Timbuktu, Mali amidst international condemnation. It comes after the group destroyed several other monuments over the weekend.

Islamist rebels from the Ansar Dine group that currently controls two-thirds of Mali's north have destroyed the door of the 15th-century Sidi Yahya mosque, continuing their violent campaign aimed at world heritage Islamic sites in the country.

According to legend, the door to the mosque should remain closed until the end of time, but the rebels consider this, among other beliefs of Mali's Sufi version of Islam, to be un-Islamic idolatry. They said by smashing in the door they wanted to "destroy the mystery" of the ancient entrance.

Over the weekend, the militants destroyed at least eight of 16 listed mausoleums in Timbuktu in what UNESCO has called "wanton destruction" of Mali's world heritage sites. Timbuktu is known as the City of 333 Saints because of the number of mausoleums to its Muslim spiritual guides. Last week, Timbuktu was added to UNESCO's list of endangered sites due to the rebel campaign.

International outrage

The attacks have sparked outrage across the region and beyond. The government in Bamako condemned them, but since it has no control over the rebel-held north, it is powerless to stop them.

Culture and Tourism Minister Fadima Diallo on Sunday urged the United Nations to take action to preserve her country's heritage.

Algeria's foreign minister, Mourad Medelci, who held talks with his Malian counterpart Sadio Lamine Sow in Algiers on Monday, said that "Algeria believes these tombs constitute a homage and a recognition by the local people to the saints and scholars who contributed to the flourishing of Islam in the region and to the spread of the values of tolerance and spirituality."

On Sunday, the International Criminal Court described the destruction as a war crime.

"My message to those involved in these criminal acts is clear: stop the destruction of the religious buildings now. This is a war crime which my office has authority to fully investigate," Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement.

Timbuktu is located on an old Saharan trading route that saw salt from the Arab north exchanged for gold and slaves from black Africa to the south. In the 15th and 16th century it was an Islamic seat of learning. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988.

ng/pfd (Reuters, AFP, AP)