Islamist militants have desecrated the tomb of a Muslim saint in the city of Timbuktu in northern Mali, it was reported.
The militants were identified as members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is based in North Africa and has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in Algeria and the kidnappings of Westerners. They were aided by Ansar Dine, which supported a rebel uprising several weeks ago against the Malian government, AFP reported.
The militants “have destroyed the tomb of Saint Sidi (Mahmoud Ben) Amar. They set fire to the tomb,” a local official told the news agency. He added that the militants threatened to destroy other tombs in Timbuktu, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and considered the cradle of Islamic learning.
The town has been under the control of Tuareg-led rebels and Ansar Dine over the past several weeks, the groups aiming to impose Shariah in North Africa. Mali’s unrest has been traced back to a March 22 coup that ousted the democratically elected president from power and left a security gap in the northern part of the country.
Sanda Ould Boumama, a spokesperson with Ansar Dine, told The Associated Press that “a new member of the Ansar Dine group” set fire to the tomb “ to tell the faithful praying there that the saints” should not be worshiped. He did not elaborate and say whether Ansar Dine itself supported the act.