Arab Militants Attack and Burn Timbuktu’s Holy Sites

A destroyed outer gate saint Sidi Amar shrine

There are fears that the population of Timbuktu may react violently after fighters from a religious sect desecrated the tomb of a saint.

Reports over the weekend stated that Ansar Dine rebels attacked and burned a holy shrine and threatened Muslim worshippers on their way to observe Friday prayers. French news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP), reported that Mali’s transitional government was appalled by the “unspeakable act.”

There is a possibility that civilians may “revolt” over the attack of the sacred shrine, El Hadj Baba Haidara, an official of parliament reporters.

Haidara told reporters that the Arab attackers damaged “doors, windows and wooden gates”. AFP reported an anonymous source saying that the tomb of Saint Sidi (Mahmoud Ben) Amar was set alight.

Haidara appealed to UNESCO to help protect Timbuktu’s heritage sites, saying that the attackers promised to return to destroy other tombs.

Ahmed Ibrahim, a resident who witnessed the incident, said that an armed man condemned the praising of holy saints, saying that three men desecrated the tomb in front of onlookers.

Last month, Human Rights Watch conducted a 10-day mission and documented abuses by several Arab groups that operate in northern Mali. “The commanders of these groups need to stop the abuses, ensure discipline over their fighters, and appropriately punish those in their ranks responsible for these crimes,” said Corinne Dufka, senior Africa researcher, said.

The ancient town, with a predominantly ethnic African population, had fallen to Tuareg rebels and Islamist fighters following the ousting of President Amadou Toumani Tourea in a coup in March.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), on May 3, continued to press for an urgent return to constitutional rule after the junta rejected the bloc’s plan to deploy troops to Mali.

The Ansar Dine Islamist group, led by former Tuareg rebel leader Iyad Ag Ghali, is said to be linked to al-Qaeda and wants to impose Islamic law throughout west Africa.