Latest Update: Sunday6/5/2012May, 2012, 12:34 AM Doha Time
Mali Islamists attack Unesco heritage site
Malian fighters from the Ansar Dine Islamist group attacked and burned the tomb
of one of the town’s saints, classified as a Unesco World Heritage Site,
residents and a regional official said yesterday.
militants broke off doors, windows and wooden gates from the grave and burned
them, they said, in the first reported attack on a shrine in Mali.
Baba Haidara, an elected member of parliament from Timbuktu, said some young
people were discussing how to react despite being unarmed.
“There is a risk
the people may revolt because this is something that affects their dignity. This
tomb is sacred, it is too difficult to bear,” Haidara said.
Ansar Dine, along
with Tuareg rebels and other armed groups, swept through northern Mali in March
and April, seizing the northern half of the country and its ancient towns of
Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal after the government collapsed in a March 22
While the rebel MNLA has declared an independent state in the north, Al
Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine - led by veteran Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghaly - has
rejected that idea and said the group’s objective was to impose Islamic law in
Timbuktu Muslims on their way to Friday prayers at the tomb of Sidi
Mahmoud Ben Amar and those of other saints were stopped and threatened by armed
men from Ansar Dine, one resident said.
“What you are doing is haram
(forbidden). Ask God directly rather than the dead,” one of the armed men told
the residents, according to Ahmed Ibrahim, a resident who witnessed the
Some view shrines as idolatry but others, especially Sufis, see
shrines as part of accepted custom. Salafists have attacked several Sufi shrines
in Egypt and Libya in the past year.
“After uttering those words, three of
them (armed men) entered the mausoleum, ripped and burnt pieces of white
clothing that surrounded the tomb of the saint in front of everyone,” Ibrahim
Haidara said the act by the Islamist group could spark a violent
reaction from the population, and that he had urged the UN body to help protect
Timbuktu’s heritage sites.
“They attacked the grave, broke doors, windows and
wooden gates that protect it. They brought it outside and burn it, because to
build a tomb is contrary to the principles of Islam,” he said. The men said they
would return to destroy other tombs.
No one at Unesco was immediately
available to comment.
“We have learned with indignation of the desecration of
tombs perpetrated by lawless individuals. The government condemns in the
strongest terms this unspeakable act in the name of Islam, a religion of
tolerance and respect for human dignity,” Mali’s government said in a statement
read on national television.
Timbuktu has 333 tombs of holy saints among
which 16 are classified as Unesco World Heritage Sites including that of Sidi
Mahamoud Ben Amar, a learned scholar considered the most sacred in Timbuktu,
The town has been a World Heritage Site since 1988 and Unesco
Director-General Irina Bokova in April appealed to the rebels to spare its
“outstanding earthen architectural wonders”.
These include the Sankore, Sidi
Yahia and Djingarei-ber mosques - the latter Timbuktu’s oldest, built from mud
bricks and wood in 1325 - the famous manuscript libraries and the 16 mausoleums