The 21st Century Phenomenon


A hardline religious group occupying northern Mali, Ansar Dine (Soldiers of Law) has destroyed, on Friday 06/29/2012, a 15th-century mausoleums of Sufi Muslim saints in Timbuktu and have threatened to demolish the remaining 13 UNESCO world heritage sites in the fabled city, witnesses have said. The Islamist Ansar Dine group backs strict sharia, Islamic law, and considers the shrines of the local Sufi version of Islam idolatrous. The saint’s 15th-century tomb was also desecrated by extremists in May after armed fighters seized control of the vast desert north following a March coup in Bamako, Mali’s capital (see also – Sufi Shrine Bombing ).

The attack by Ansar Dine group on Friday came just four days after UNESCO placed Timbuktu on its list of heritage sites in danger after the seizure of its northern two-thirds in April by rebels. “They have already completely destroyed the mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud (Ben Amar) (pic) and two others. They said they would continue all day and destroy all 16,” Yeya Tandina, a local Malian journalist, said by telephone. “They are armed and have surrounded the sites with pick-up trucks. The population is just looking on helplessly,” he said, adding that the Islamists were currently taking pick-axes to the mausoleum of Sidi El Mokhtar, another cherished local saint.

“It looks as if it is a direct reaction to the UNESCO decision,” Timbuktu deputy Sandy Haidara said by telephone, confirming the attacks. “Ansar Dine will today destroy every mausoleum in the city. All of them, without exception,” Sanda Ould Boumama, the group’s spokesman, told AFP news agency through an interpreter from the city.

“God is unique. All of this is haram (or forbidden in Islam). We are all Muslims. UNESCO is what?” he said, declaring that Ansar Dine was acting “in the name of God”. The UN cultural agency UNESCO on Saturday deplored the “tragic” destruction called for the rampage to stop (see also –Wahhabism).

“Since government forces were routed in April, Ansar Dine and other Islamist groups with links to MAGHREB al-QaedaAQIM have gained the upper hand over less well-armed Tuaregs whose goal is a secular, independent northern state.

Beyond its historic mosques, the World Heritage site of Timbuktu, once a cradle of Islamic learning, has 16 cemeteries and mausolea, according to the UNESCO website.

Sometimes called the city of 333 saints, Timbuktu is also home to nearly 100,000 ancient manuscripts, some dating back to the 12th century, preserved in family homes and private libraries under the care of religious scholars.

At its height in the 1500s, the city, a Niger River port at the edge of the Sahara 1,000km north of Bamako, was the key intersection for salt traders travelling from the north and gold traders from the south. 


*** In 03/2001 the Taliban in Afghanistan totally destroyed with dynamite the famous historic Buddhas of Bamiyan statues, fron the 5th’ century, in South-East Afghanistan. 


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