Islamist rebels occupying the ancient city of Timbuktu in Mali have vowed to smash every mausoleum, in the face of international protests.
A spokesman for the Ansar Dine group, Sanda Ould Boumama, said it would “destroy every mausoleum in the city – all of them, without exception”.
The centuries-old shrines to Islamic saints, revered by Sufi Muslims, are regarded as idolatrous by the group.
Six mausoleums have been reportedly been destroyed this weekend.
Three were smashed on Saturday, and a further three on Sunday, local sources told international news agencies.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, described the destruction of the mausoleums as a “war crime”, the AFP news agency reported.
“My message to those involved in these criminal acts is clear: stop the destruction of the religious buildings now. This is a war crime which my office has authority to fully investigate,” she said, according to AFP.
Mali’s Culture and Tourism Minister, Diallo Fadima Toure, urged the UN to take action to stop “crimes” against her country’s architectural treasures.
Ansar Dine, which has ties to al-Qaeda, seized northern Mali in March, in tandem with ethnic Tuareg rebels.
However, the alliance between the two groups has frayed and the Islamists now say they control the territory after driving out their former allies.
Another spokesman for Ansar Dine, Oumar Ould Hamaha, told Reuters news agency by phone: “We are subject to religion and not to international opinion
“Building on graves is contrary to Islam. We are destroying the mausoleums because it is ordained by our religion.”
The Muslim world either can’t stop them or chooses not to.
- Added to Unesco world heritage list in 1988 for its three large mosques and 16 cemeteries and mausoleums
- Unesco says they played a major role in spreading Islam in West Africa; the oldest dates from 1329