Mali Islamists attack UNESCO holy site in Timbuktu
By Tiemoko Diallo and Adama Diarra
BAMAKO (Reuters) - Malian fighters from the Ansar Dine Islamist group attacked and burned the tomb of one of the town's saints, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, residents and a regional official said on Saturday.
The militants broke off doors, windows and wooden gates from the grave and burned them, they said, in the first reported attack on a shrine in Mali.
El Hadj Baba Haidara, an elected member of parliament from Timbuktu told Reuters some young people were discussing how to react despite being unarmed.
"There is a risk the people may revolt because this is something that affects their dignity. This tomb is sacred, it is too difficult to bear," Haidara said.
Ansar Dine, along with Tuareg rebels and other armed groups, swept through northern Mali in March and April, seizing the northern half of the country and its ancient towns of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal after the government collapsed in a March 22 coup.
While the rebel MNLA has declared an independent state in the north, al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine - led by veteran Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghaly - has rejected that idea and said the group's objective was to impose Islamic law in Mali.
In 2001, the Taliban dynamited and destroyed two 6th century statues of Buddha measuring 55 and 37 metres (180 and 121 feet) high, carved into a cliff in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan.
Timbuktu Muslims on their way to Friday worship at the tomb of Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar and those of other saints were stopped and threatened by armed men from Ansar Dine, one resident said. Continued...