BAMAKO —Islamists in northern Mali attacked one of the most famous mosques in the historic city of Timbuktu on Monday, July 2, sparking outrage among locals and around the world.
"The Islamists have just destroyed the door to the entrance of the Sidi Yahya mosque," a resident of the town told Agence France-Presse on Monday, July 2.
“They tore the sacred door off which we never open.”
Islamists from Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) group tore down the main gate of 15th-Century Sidi Yahia mosque in Timbuktu.
The attack sparked outrage among locals, who believe that the main gate of the mosque should not be opened until the last day of the world or it will bring misfortune.
The gate leads to a tomb of saints.
A resident said that he spoke to members of Ansar Dine who said they wanted to end the legend.
"Some said that the day this door is opened it will be the end of the world and they wanted to show that it is not the end of the world," he said.
Believing the shrines to be idolatrous, Ansar Dine threatened to destroy any mosques housing the remains of the ancient saints.
"They came with pick-axes, they cried 'Allah' and broke the door. It is very serious. Some of the people watching began crying," a former tour guide in the once-popular tourist destination said.
According to the website of the UN cultural agency (UNESCO), Sidi Yahya is one of Timbuktu's three great mosques and was built around 1400, dating back to the city's golden age as a desert crossroads and centre for learning.
The fabled city, which became a metaphor for a mythic, faraway place, is considered one of the centers from which Islam spread through Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The three mosques formed the 'university' of Timbuktu, also known as the "City of 333 Saints". Timbuktu is also home to 16 cemeteries and mausoleums.
World OutrageThe destruction of ancient shrines in the UNESCO-listed city has sparked outcry from the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
"My message to those involved in these criminal acts is clear: stop the destruction of the religious buildings now," ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told AFP in an interview in Dakar.
"This is a war crime which my office has authority to fully investigate."
Ansar Dine began their campaign of destruction after UNESCO put Timbuktu on its list of endangered world heritage sites.
"God is unique. All of this is haram (forbidden in Islam). We are all Muslims. UNESCO is what?" spokesman Sanda Ould Boumama said on Saturday.
Boumama argued that the group was acting in the name of God and would "destroy every mausoleum in the city. All of them, without exception".
The attacks recall the 2001 dynamiting by the Taliban of two 6th-century statues of Buddha carved into a cliff in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon deplored the destruction of Timbuktu tombs.
"Such attacks against cultural heritage sites are totally unjustified," his spokesman Martin Nesirky quoting him as saying
Mali, once regarded as a fine example of African democracy, collapsed into chaos after soldiers toppled the president in March, leaving a power vacuum in the north that enabled rebels to take control of nearly two-thirds of the country.
A regionally-backed transitional government has been set up in Bamako to organize new presidential elections within a year, though supporters of the ruling military junta oppose the plan.Muslims make up more than 90 percent of Mali's nearly 12 million population.
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