Militants from the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine group destroyed mausoleums of Sufi saints with guns and pick-axes in the famed Mali city of Timbuktu for a second day,said witnesses on Sunday,ignoring international calls to halt the attacks.
The salafist Ansar Dine backs strict sharia,Islamic law,and considers the centuries-old shrines of the local Sufi version of Islam in Timbuktu to be idolatrous.
Sufi shrines have been attacked by hardline Salafists in Egypt and Libya in the past year.
The group has threatened to destroy all of the 16 main Sufi mausoleum sites in Timbuktu despite international outcry. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has called for an immediate halt to the attacks.
Local journalist Yaya Tandina told Reuters that about 30 militants armed with Kalashnikovs and pick-axes destroyed three mausoleums of saints on Sunday. They had armed men guarding the door. Just like yesterday,the population did not react. They (local people) said we need to let them (the Islamists) do what they want,hoping that someday we will rebuild the tombs, Tandina said.
Residents said the destruction was halted around midday when some of the militants went to a mosque in the centre of the city,but it was unclear if they would continue.
We are subject to religion and not to international opinion. Building on graves is contrary to Islam. We are destroying the mausoleums because it is ordained by our religion, Oumar Ould Hamaha,a spokesman for Ansar Dine,told Reuters by telephone from the northern Mali city on Sunday. Timbuktu resident Hamed Mohamed said the Islamists destroyed the tombs of saints Sidi Elmety,Mahamane Elmety and Cheick Sidi Amar,all in the west of the city.
Ansar Dine is made up of Islamist fighters of various nationalities including Malians,Algerians and Nigerians. For me it is a declaration of war and a crime against our cultural heritage. It is time that the international community helped us.
Malis defence minister condemned the attacks on Sunday and said there was a need for urgent action in north Mali.
What is happening in Timbuktu is really outrageous. You can not want to be there for people and simultaneously undertake actions that offend their sensibilities, Colonel Yamoussa Camara said in Niamey after meeting with Nigers prime minister.
The Timbuktu attack came days after UNESCO placed the city on its list of heritage sites in danger and recalls the 2001 dynamiting by the Taliban of two 6th-century statues of Buddha carved into a cliff in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan.