BAMAKO — Islamist rebels in northern Mali took hoes and chisels to the tombs of ancient Muslim saints in the city of Timbuktu for a second day, ignoring international pleas to halt their campaign of destruction.
A local journalist said dozens of Islamists had swarmed the cemetery of Djingareyber in the south of the ancient trading city, a World Heritage Site.
“They are near the mausoleum of Cheikh el-Kebir, they are busy destroying it,” the journalist told AFP condition of anonymity.
He said the men had circled the cemetery clasping “tools” such as chisels and hoes, but did not have construction vehicles that were used in Saturday’s rampage.
“They cried “Allahu Akbar (God is Great). They said they were going to destroy the tombs,” he added.
The cemetery houses at least three ancient tombs and is situated in the south of Timbuktu in the suburb of the eponymous Djingareyber mosque built in 1327.
Islamist militants who have occupied northern Mali for the past three months since a March coup in Bamako and are enforcing strict sharia law, destroyed at least three ancient tombs of Muslim saints with pick-axes on Saturday.
The action followed the UN’s cultural body UNESCO’s decision on Thursday to list the city as an endangered site because of the continuing violence in northern Mali and in the wake of an attack on a 15th century tomb in May.
Islamists regard shrines as idolatrous.
“God is unique. All of this is haram (forbidden in Islam). We are all Muslims. UNESCO is what?” a spokesman for Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) said on Saturday.
Mali’s Culture and Tourism Minister Diallo Fadima Toure on Sunday urged the UN to take action to preserve her coutnry’s heritage.
“Mali exhorts the UN to take concrete steps to stop these crimes against the cultural heritage of my people,” Toure told UNESCO’s annual meeting in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg.