Tombs in Timbuktu's Djingareyber mosque 'destroyed'

Djingareyber mosque in Timbuktu, Mali The centuries-old Djingareyber mosque is made mainly of mud and wood

Islamist fighters in Timbuktu have destroyed two tombs at the northern Malian city's famous Djingareyber mosque, residents have said.

Eyewitnesses said the militants shot in the air to warn people away as they began smashing the shrines.

Timbuktu is a World Heritage site, with centuries-old shrines to Islamic saints, revered by Sufi Muslims.

The al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine group that seized the city in April says they are idolatrous and wants them removed.

The UN Security Council condemned the destruction last week of some shrines, warning it could constitute a war crime.

This means that a case could be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, whose prosecutor has already condemned the recent destruction of Muslim tombs.

'Roads blocked'

About a dozen militants drove up to the 14th-Century Djingareyber mosque in an armoured four-wheeled truck, armed with guns, pickaxes and hoes, one Timbuktu resident who witnessed the scene told Reuters news agency.

Other residents described how the fighters blocked the two main roads leading to the mosque and shot in the air to scare people off.

Treasures of Timbuktu

map
  • Timbuktu was a centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th centuries
  • 700,000 manuscripts survive in public libraries and private collections
  • Books on religion, law, literature and science
  • Letters between rulers, officials and merchants on issues such as taxes, trade, marriage and prostitution
  • Added to Unesco world heritage list in 1988 for its three mosques and 16 cemeteries and mausoleums
  • They played a major role in spreading Islam in West Africa; the oldest dates from 1329

"The two tombs are adjacent to the western wall of the great mosque and the Islamists have hoes [and] chisels - they are hitting the mausoleums which are made out of packed earth," another witness told the AFP news agency.

The UN cultural agency Unesco and Mali's government have already called on Ansar Dine to halt its campaign.

The group has destroyed several of 16 listed mausoleums in the city, and has vowed to smash them all.

Its fighters have also broken down the sacred door of the 15th-Century Sidi Yahia mosque.

Unesco has also expressed concern that valuable artefacts and manuscripts may be smuggled out of the region and has urged neighbouring countries to prevent this.

Timbuktu owes its international fame to its role as a centre of Islamic learning, based in its three large mosques, in the 15th and 16th Centuries. It is also known as the "city of 333 saints", which originate in the Sufi tradition of Islam.

Ansar Dine's Salafist beliefs condemn the veneration of saints.

The group seized control of Timbuktu in April, after a coup left Mali's army in disarray.

Initially, it was working with secular ethnic Tuareg rebels demanding independence for northern Mali's desert territories but the groups have recently clashed and Islamist forces are in control of northern Mali's three main centres - Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Africa stories

RSS

Features

  • Krak des ChevaliersSitting targets

    How ancient treasures in Syria are being bombed to pieces


  • Mesut Ozil's tattoo reads "Only God can judge me"Ink explained

    Nine World Cup players' tattoos decoded, and one who refuses


  • Putting a coin in supermarket trolleyMinor annoyance

    Why are Morrisons getting rid of coin-locks on trolleys?


  • Sekhemka statueSelling out?

    The councils tempted to cash in on their art collections


  • Google sweetsName game

    Would Google have made it as BackRub?


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.