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Islamist group Ansar Dine destroying historic sites in Mali

In a development that carries an unsettling parallel with the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in March 2001, the Islamist group Ansar Dine has destroyed historic Sufi mausoleums in the Malian city of Timbuktu while locals looked on.

Armed with pick axes, hoes and automatic weapons, the attackers laid waste to three mausoleums and at least seven tombs, which only days ago were added to UNESCO’s list of endangered heritage sites. “The mausoleum doesn’t exist any more and the cemetery is as bare as a soccer pitch,” a local teacher told the Guardian.

Locals said the group also threatened to destroy all 16 of the mausoleums, and though UNESCO indicated that Ansar Dine stopped its attacks as of Saturday it resumed on Monday with the destruction of four more tombs.

The Timbuktu sites came under siege by the group for being perceived as a violation of sharia law, which views the shrines as a sign of idolatry. The mausoleums date to the 16th century when Timbuktu was an Islamic cultural and commercial hub that was home to scholars and religious leaders. Such shrines have also recently come under attack in Libya and Egypt.

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The violence against the landmarks is considered a continuation of the nation’s instability that began in April with a rebellion against government troops in the northern portion of the West African state by Ansar Dine and Tuareg-led separatists. Ansar Dine has since asserted control over the separatists.

UNESCO has called about Mali’s neighboring countries to help with the effort to prevent the black-market sales of artifacts from these sites, and UN military intervention is currently being sought to help stabilize the country before more damage can be inflicted.

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