Islamist militants in northern Mali have attacked a famous mosque in the historic city of Timbuktu after destroying tombs of ancient Muslim saints.
On Monday, armed members with the Ansar Dine militant group, which is believed to have links to al-Qaeda, broke into the 15th century Sidi Yahia Mosque, a resident told the BBC.
Islamist militants said they wanted to “destroy the mystery” of the entrance to the mosque, Alpha Abdoulahi, the town imam, told Reuters.
“They offered me 50,000 communaute financiere Africaine [CFA] ($100) for repairs but I refused to take the money, saying that what they did is irreparable,” Abdoulahi added.
An Ansar Dine spokesperson said the group has nearly completed its mission to destroy all mausoleums in the city, saying that their existence is not compatible with Islamic law, according to the BBC.
UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural arm, urged Ansar Dine to halt attacks against mosques and shrines.
“There is no justification for such wanton destruction and I call on all parties engaged in the conflict to stop these terrible and irreversible acts, to exercise their responsibility and protect this invaluable cultural heritage for future generations,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement Saturday.
Timbuktu was also added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in danger because of the violence.Ansar Dine and several affiliated Islamist groups fought alongside Tuareg rebels against the Malian army to take over a portion of the country Mali the size of France. However, Ansar Dine broke away from the Tuaregs and essentially hijacked their separatist movement, controlling two-thirds of the area.