Armed groups occupying Timbuktu in northern Mali used pickaxes on Sunday to smash up any remaining mausoleums in the ancient city, an Islamist leader said.
The rebels’ ruthless implementation of their version of Islamic law comes just days after the UN approved a military force to wrest back control of the conflict-ridden area.
“Not a single mausoleum will remain in Timbuktu, Allah doesn’t like it,” Ansar Dine leader Abou Dardar said. “We are in the process of smashing all the hidden mausoleums in the area.”
Witnesses confirmed the claims, along with one resident who said he belonged to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), another militant group occupying the city since a March coup plunged the west African state into chaos.
Anything that does not fall under Islam “is not good. Man should only worship Allah,” Mohammed Alfoul said of the mausoleums, which the armed Islamists consider blasphemous.
The vandalism of the Muslim saints’ tombs in the UNESCO World Heritage site came a day after other Islamists in the northern city of Gao announced they had amputated two people’s hands.
The continued strict application of Shariah law is seen as a sign that the armed Islamist groups are unfazed by the UN’s green light for the African-led military operation.
Planners have said no intervention can be launched before September next year.
However, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told yesterday’s edition of La Croix newspaper that he thought it could be launched in the first half of next year.
In July, Islamists destroyed the entrance to a 15th-century mosque in Timbuktu, the so-called “City of 333 Saints.”
“The Islamists are currently in the process of destroying all the mausoleums in the area with pickaxes,” one witness said.
“I saw Islamists get out of a car near the historic mosque of Timbuktu. They smashed a mausoleum behind a house shouting: ‘Allah is great, Allah is great,’” another resident said.
As well as in cemeteries and mosques, the revered mausoleums are found in alleyways and private residences of the ancient center of learning and desert crossroads.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton condemned the Islamists.
A statement from her office said she was “deeply shocked by the brutal destruction of mausoleums and holy shrines in Timbuktu. Their destruction is a tragedy not only for the people of Mali, but for the whole world.”