Islamist extremists damaged or stole only a limited number of manuscripts in Timbuktu in Mali before they fled the fabled desert city, a South African university said.
People in the north Malian city who have knowledge of the documents reported that there was no malicious destruction of any library or collection, said the University of Cape Town, which helped fund a state-of-the-art library to house manuscripts.
The manuscripts cover subjects from science, astrology and medicine to history, theology, grammar and geography. They date back to the late 12th century, the start of a 300-year golden age for Timbuktu as a spiritual and intellectual capital for the propagation of Islam.
Islamist extremists decimated tourism in 2011 when three Europeans were taken hostage from a Timbuktu restaurant in November that year. In April last year, Tuareg nationalist rebels seized control of Timbuktu from government troops. A day later Islamist insurgents moved into the city. They banned music, insisted women cover themselves and began carrying out public executions.
In late January, Timbuktu was under the control of French and Malian troops. The extremists melted into the desert without firing a shot. Townspeople were jubilant at the city’s liberation from intolerant Islamist extremists.