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Heavily armed Islamists bulldozed the tombs of three local Sufi saints near Mali’s desert city of Timbuktu on Thursday, residents said, the latest in a series of attacks in the rebel-held north that critics say threaten its cultural heritage.

“They arrived aboard six or seven vehicles, heavily armed,” said Garba Maiga, a resident of Timbuktu, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its ancient shrines. “They flattened everything with a bulldozer and pulled up the skeletal remains.”

Residents said the tombs destroyed included those of local saints Cheick Nouh, Cheick Ousmane el Kabir, and Cheick 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. Read more.

BAMAKO — Members of Timbuktu’s Arab community said Wednesday they have set up an armed brigade to prevent further destruction of the tombs of ancient Muslim saints by Islamists occupying northern Mali.

"Today we have a vigilance brigade so that no one touches the mausolea of Araouane and Gasser-Cheick," said Tahel Ould Sidy, leader of the unit, referring to two tombs in the greater Timbuktu region.

"We are armed and there is the required number of people," he added.

"We are not going to allow people who know nothing about Islam to come and destroy our treasures. I studied in Mauritania and Saudi Arabia, no one tells us in the Koran that we should destroy tombs."


Members of Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), an Al-Qaeda-linked armed group, have been destroying tombs.

A child holds a gun as he accompanies Islamists who have been destroying ancient sites in Timbuktu. Read more.

The ancient shrines and mosques which have helped to make the name Timbuktu known around the world are under threat from the Islamist Ansar Dine militant group which has taken control of the fabled city in northern Mali.

The main collection in the city - with more than 40,000 items, some of them dating from as early as the 10th Century - is held at the Ahmed Baba Institute of High Studies and Islamic Research.

In the last few days, Ansar Dine followers, whose Salafist beliefs condemn the veneration of saints, have been destroying ancient mausoleums. They have also attacked the Sidi Yahya mosque (pictured above) and smashed one of its doors which had been left sealed as it led to the tomb of saints.

Before the arrival of electronic media, the ancient knowledge was preserved by calligraphers like Boubacar Sadeck who specializes in copying 16th Century manuscripts. More.

The Islamists controlling northern Mali on Tuesday destroyed two tombs at the ancient Djingareyber mosque in fabled Timbuktu, vowing to destroy all World Heritage sites in the region.

Armed with hoes, pick-axes and chisels, members of Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) hammered away at the two earthen tombs until they were completely destroyed, witnesses told AFP.

"Currently the Islamists are busy destroying two tombs of Timbuktu’s great Djingareyber mosque. They are shooting in the air to chase away the crowd, to scare them," one witness said earlier as the rampage began.

"The two mausolea are adjacent to the western wall of the great mosque and the Islamists have hoes, chisels, they are hitting the mausolea which are made out of packed earth," said a source close to the mosque’s imam.

"They say they will destroy everything." Read more.