Bamako: Mali Islamists Thursday flattened the tombs of three local Sufi saints near the desert city of Timbuktu, the latest in a series of attacks in the rebel-held north that critics say threaten its cultural heritage.
According to local residents, the militants arrived aboard six or seven vehicles, heavily armed and leveled everything with a bulldozer and pulled up the skeletal remains.
Residents said the tombs destroyed included those of local saints Sheikh Nouh, Sheikh Ousmane el Kabir, and Sheikh Mohamed Foulani Macina, several kilometers (miles) outside of the city gates. They said the rebels were from Ansar Dine, one of a mixture of Islamist groups now in control of northern Mali.
Ansar Dine, which controls Timbuktu along with Al-Qaeda’s north African branch, began its campaign of destruction after UN cultural organisation UNESCO put the fabled city on its list of endangered world heritage sites.
In July, Ansar Dine rebels smashed seven tombs of ancient Muslim saints as well as the “sacred door” to a 15th-century mosque.
The group has also threatened to destroy the city’s three ancient mosques, one of which dates back to 1327.
The U.N. Security Council last week passed a resolution urging African regional groups and the United Nations to present a specific plan within 45 days for military intervention in Mali to help government troops reclaim the north.