Mali extremists smash entrance to 15th century mosque in Timbuktu
By Serge Daniel, AFP
July 3, 2012, 12:36 am TWN
BAMAKO--Mali's Islamist rebels smashed the entrance of a 15th century Timbuktu mosque on Monday, escalating a campaign of destruction of the city's cultural treasures despite threats of prosecution for war crimes.
Some residents sobbed as the Islamist militants broke down the "sacred door" of one of the northern Malian city's three ancient mosques after they wrecked seven tombs of Muslim saints over the weekend.
The three mosques formed the "university" of Timbuktu, also known as the "City of 333 Saints." Timbuktu is also home to 16 cemeteries and mausoleums.
Exclusive video footage obtained by AFP shows turbaned men chanting "Allah Akbar" (God is great) while smashing a mausoleum with pick-axes in a cloud of dust, the mud-brick tomb showing gaping holes in the side with rubble piling up alongside it.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned the destruction, saying in a statement the sites were "part of the rich Islamic heritage of Mali and should not be allowed to be destroyed by ... bigoted extremist elements."
Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith) believe the shrines to be idolatrous and have threatened to destroy any mosques housing the remains of the ancient saints, prompting an outcry from government and the international community.
"The Islamists have just destroyed the door to the entrance of the Sidi Yahya mosque ... they tore the sacred door off which we never open," said a resident of the town on Monday morning.
A former tour guide in the once-popular tourist destination said: "They came with pick-axes, they cried "Allah" and broke the door. It is very serious. Some of the people watching began crying."
Another man, a relative of a local imam (religious leader), said he had spoken to members of Ansar Dine, which occupied the city and the rest of northern Mali in the chaos following a coup in Bamako three months ago.
"Some said that the day this door is opened it will be the end of the world and they wanted to show that it is not the end of the world."
The door on the south end of the mosque has been closed for centuries due to local beliefs that to open it will bring misfortune.
It leads to a tomb of saints, however the Islamists appeared unaware of this as one witness said if they had known "they would have broken everything."