Members of Ansar Dine extremist group stand guard in an area near Timbuktu, Mali, on April 24, 2012.
Members of the Arab community in the Malian ancient city of Timbuktu have formed an armed unit to guard the historic tombs of Muslim saints against the Ansar Dine extremist group operating in the north of the country.
"Today, we have a vigilance brigade so that no one touches the mausoleums of Araouane and Gasser-Cheick (in the city of Timbuktu)… We are armed and there is the required number of people," AFP quoted Tahel Ould Sidi, leader of the brigade as saying on Wednesday.
"We are not going to allow people who know nothing about Islam to come and destroy our treasures. I studied in Mauritania and Saudi Arabia, no one tells us in the Holy Quran that we should destroy tombs," he added.
On Tuesday, the extremist al-Qaeda-linked group destroyed two mausoleums, which are adjacent to the western wall of Djingereyber -- a 14th-century mosque in the UNESCO-listed city of Timbuktu.
Ahmed, a Tunisian who said he was a member of Ansar Dine's “media committee” vowed to “destroy everything, even if the mausoleums are inside the mosques…”
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.