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Wed Jul 11, 2012 1:45AM
An undated photo of members of the Ansar Dine extremist group in Mali

An undated photo of members of the Ansar Dine extremist group in Mali

Members of the Ansar Dine extremist group have destroyed two earthen tombs at a 14th-century mosque in the UNESCO-listed city of Timbuktu in the West African nation of Mali. In their latest act of destruction targeting the city's cultural treasures, the extremist al-Qaeda-linked group used pickaxes and chisels on Tuesday to destroy the two mausoleums, which are adjacent to the western wall of Djingareyber mosque, AFP quoted a source close to the imam of the mosque as saying. A witness said that the extremists also fired into the air to scare away the crowd. He added that that they had asked the Qatar-owned broadcaster Al-Jazeera to film their actions. "We will destroy everything, even if the mausoleums are inside the mosques, and afterwards we will destroy the mausoleums in the region of Timbuktu," said Ahmed, a Tunisian who said he was a member of Ansar Dine's “media committee.” On July 2, the extremist group destroyed the gate of the Sidi Yahya Mosque in the city. On June 30, members of the group also desecrated centuries-old mausoleums of Sufi Muslim saints -- Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi El Mokhtar, and Alfa Moya -- and at least seven tombs. Ansar Dine considers the tombs of Muslim saints in Mali's fabled city of Timbuktu to be idolatrous. Fatou Bensouda, a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, said on June 30 that the destruction of the heritage of the ancient Malian city is "a possible war crime." The Malian government denounced the "destructive fury" of the extremists on June 30, comparing their actions to war crimes, and threatened to take action on the national and international level. UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova also called for an immediate halt to the attacks on the holy sites in Timbuktu. On June 29, UNESCO placed Timbuktu on its list of heritage sites in danger. Timbuktu, sometimes called the city of 333 saints, is also home to nearly 100,000 historic manuscripts. Some of the manuscripts date back to the 12th century and are preserved in family homes and private libraries under the care of religious scholars. Ansar Dine, along with Tuareg rebels and other armed groups, took advantage of a March 22 coup and swept through northern Mali. MHB/MP/HGL
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