Mali’s Islamist rebel fighters have renewed their attacks on ancient tombs in Timbuktu as the United Nations has authorized African states to take on al-Qaeda-linked groups in the country’s northern desert zones.
Youssouf Toure, a resident of the ancient trading town Timbuktu, stated to Reuters:
“Since 0800 (GMT) this morning, the Islamists have been destroying tombs again. [They are] targeting new ones and the ones they destroyed several months ago.”
The attacks are being made on traditional Sufi Islamic shrines and are being carried out by 15 heavily-armed fighters who are also equipped with pick axes. Residents added that at least two tombs that were previously untouched by the rebels have been destroyed.
Timbuktu is a UNESCO world heritage site, making the destroying of tombs both painful to see for residents and also illegal under the terms of the Geneva convention.
The Islamist groups have occupied the north of Mali since April and have continuously set out to destroy the region’s religious heritage. They have also carried out a string of amputations based on Islamic Sharia law despite the fact that the occupied population has practiced a more moderate form of Islam for centuries.
Al Jazeera notes that Abou Dardar, the head of Ansar Dine, claimed:
“Not a single mausoleum will remain in Timbuktu, Allah doesn’t like it. We are in the process of smashing all the hidden mausoleums in the area.”
The group claims that the ancient tombs are a symbol of idolatry, which is a sin according to the Muslim faith, which prohibits idol worship. One resident in the area reported Islamists getting out of a car and smashing a mausoleum behind a house while shouting, “Allah is great, Allah is great!”
It is not yet clear when the African countries will gather their forces to take back Mali’s north from the Islamist rebels.