Armed group 'destroys Timbuktu shrine'
A hardline group occupying lawless northern Mali has destroyed a 15th century shrine to a Muslim saint in the fabled city of Timbuktu, witnesses said.
"They have already completely destroyed the mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud (Ben Amar) and two others. They said they would continue all day and destroy all 16," local Malian journalist Yeya Tandina said on Saturday by telephone of the 16 most prized resting grounds of local saints in the town which has been listed by UNESCO as an endangered world heritage site.
The saint's 15th-century tomb was also desecrated by extremists in May after groups including Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb seized control of the vast desert north following a March coup in Bamako.
Beyond its historic mosques, the World Heritage site of Timbuktu, once a cradle of Islamic learning, has 16 cemeteries and mausolea, according to the UNESCO website.
Sometimes called the city of 333 saints, Timbuktu is also home to nearly 100,000 ancient manuscripts, some dating back to the 12th century, preserved in family homes and private libraries under the care of religious scholars.
At its height in the 1500s, the city, a Niger River port at the edge of the Sahara 1,000km north of Bamako, was the key intersection for salt traders travelling from the north and gold traders from the south.
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