Timbuktu, sometimes called the city of 333 saints, is famous for its distinctive architecture

Islamist fighters in Mali have damaged at least one Muslim saint’s shrine in the city of Timbuktu, witnesses say.

The fighters, from the Ansar Dine group, which controls much of northern Mali, attacked the mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud, one of 16 shrines in the city.

Last week, the UN cultural organisation Unesco put Timbuktu on its list of endangered world heritage sites, fearing damage following the coup which toppled the Malian government in March.

Islamists regard shrines as idolatrous.

However, some Muslims, especially Sufis, regard them as an accepted part of Muslim worship.

‘Architectural wonders’
Witnesses said Islamist fighters began attacking the shrines on Saturday morning, using shovels and pickaxes.

“This is tragic news for us all,” Unesco chairperson Alissandra Cummins said in a statement to the AFP news agency. “I appeal to all those engaged in the conflict in Timbuktu to exercise their responsibility.”

A spokesman for Ansar Dine said all shrines in Timbuktu would be destroyed, as he put it, without exception.  Read more…