The preservationists of Timbuktu’s centuries-old artifacts have been holding their breath for weeks, waiting for the moment when the French military would seize back Mali’s ancient northern capital from the Islamic militants who have occupied it for 10 months. At stake were the city’s most precious treasures: tens of thousands of centuries-old, priceless calligraphed manuscripts, whose fate under the jihadists’ rule was deeply uncertain.
On Monday, that moment finally came — and by nightfall, the state of Timbuktu’s treasures was as confused as it had been before.
When Malian and French soldiers rolled into town in armored vehicles early Monday, they found what the preservationists had most dreaded: Timbuktu’s new Ahmed Baba Institute, an expensive adobe construction opened in 2010 — the city’s splashiest international project in years — had been torched by militants of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb last Thursday as they prepared to flee the French advance. From Bamako, Timbuktu’s Mayor Hallé Ousmane Cissé, who had fled his city nearly four weeks ago, told journalists that the militants had burned the center’s collection of about 40,000 ancient manuscripts, some of the 300,000 or so historic documents stashed in libraries in Timbuktu and the villages around it, mostly as family heirlooms. “The manuscripts were a part not only of Mali’s heritage but the world’s heritage,” Cissé told the Guardian.
That is not so, according to those who’ve worked for months to keep the documents safe. Read more.
Islamist insurgents retreating from Timbuktu set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts, according to the Saharan town’s mayor, in an incident he described as a “devastating blow” to world heritage.
Hallé Ousmani Cissé told the Guardian that al-Qaida-allied fighters on Saturday torched two buildings that held the manuscripts, some of which dated back to the 13th century. They also burned down the town hall, the governor’s office and an MP’s residence, and shot dead a man who was celebrating the arrival of the French military.
French troops and the Malian army reached the gates of Timbuktu on Saturday and secured the town’s airport. But they appear to have got there too late to rescue the leather-bound manuscripts that were a unique record of sub-Saharan Africa’s rich medieval history. The rebels attacked the airport on Sunday, the mayor said. Read more.
UN cultural agency UNESCO on Tuesday urged Malian and French forces fighting in Mali to protect ancient cultural sites during air raids and ground attacks.
“I ask all armed forces to make every effort to protect the cultural heritage of the country, which has already been severely damaged,” UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a statement.
French warplanes have been hitting targets in various parts of the country since Friday in support of Malian forces seeking to dislodge Islamist rebels who last year seized control of its vast desert north.
The rebels have since fled three key cities in the north, including Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage site at a desert crossroads that was an ancient centre of learning. Read more.
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.
Islamist militants in Mali’s historic city Timbuktu destroyed and damaged ancient sites for a third straight day, defying international threats of prosecution.
Witnesses say the al-Qaida-linked group Ansar Dine targeted the 15th-century Sidi Yahya mosque on Monday, tearing off the entrance door. The door is considered sacred and was to remain closed until the end of the world.
Timbuktu is home to 16 ancient mausoleums said to contain the remains of Muslim saints. The militants say Muslims should revere Allah, not saints, and are attacking the mausoleums with pickaxes and shovels.
Timbuktu is a United Nations World Heritage site. The head of the Africa unit of the U.N.’s World Heritage Center, Lazare Eloundou Assomo, described the situation to VOA as serious and sad and said it is a tragedy for the world. Read more.