Preservation Fight of the Day: Islamists Attack Ancient Mosques in Timbuktu

The Ansar Dine have seized the city and hope to "destroy every mausoleum in the city — all of them, without exception."

The fabled desert city of Timbuktu, Mali, is in some trouble.  

Islamist militants affiliated with the extremist group Ansar Dine have seized the city and are trashing shrines to Islamic saints and mosques. They are targeting any building that falls outside the "strict interpretation" of Islamic law. A spokesman for Ansar Dine told the BBC that the group hopes to "destroy every mausoleum in the city — all of them, without exception." This includes tombs higher than 6 inches.

Today, they broke the door of Sidi Yahia, a 15th-century mosque. According to Global Post, Sidi Yahia is one of Timbuktu's "three great mosques, and the door had previously been sealed for centuries as it led to the sacred tomb of saints."

Sidi Yahya (Reuters)



According to AFP:

A former tour guide in the once-popular tourist destination said: "They came with pick-axes, they cried 'Allah' and broke the door. It is very serious. Some of the people watching began crying." 

Another man, a relative of a local imam (religious leader), said he had spoken to members of Ansar Dine and "they wanted to show that it is not the end of the world" when the door is opened. 

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.

About the Author

  • Amanda Erickson is a former senior associate editor at CityLab.