In July 2012, militants destroyed two tombs in the Djingareyber Mosque (pictured in 2007) shortly after UNESCO placed the site on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Photo: Emilio Labrador
It’s been eight months since renegade soldiers overthrew Mali’s democratically elected president, leading to political turmoil in the south and a complete takeover by various rebel groups in the north. Timbuktu, one of the world’s most fabled ancient cities, quickly fell into the hands of Al Qaeda-linked militants who have been relentless in their continued destruction of the World Heritage Site.
This past weekend, as reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), dozens of Algerian jihadists arrived in Timbuktu to support Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the two Mali-based Islamist groups who have been enforcing strict Sharia law in the city since April. One regional security source quoted in the article says the city is “increasingly becoming the headquarters of AQIM in northern Mali,” with the arrival of “more and more Islamist reinforcements” to be expected.
Already, militants have destroyed a number of Timbuktu’s historical and religious landmarks, which they regard as idolatrous and thus prohibited by their religion. In June, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova described the cultural devastation as adding “a moral and cultural crisis to a desperate humanitarian situation.” Since then, even more tombs have been reduced to rubble, while residents have been stoned, whipped, mutilated and arrested for not obeying Sharia law.
In the same article, the AFP reported that a conference due to open this week in Bamako, Mali’s capital, to plan the country’s transition back to democracy and tackle the crisis in the occupied north, has been delayed and will now start on December 10th. Foreign military intervention in Mali was unanimously approved by the UN Security Council in mid-October, but regional leaders have yet to present a plan for how they will oust rebels from the north.
For now, Timbuktu — once an intellectual and spiritual center, from which Islam spread throughout Africa — remains on the verge of destruction.
Click here to join the “Timbuktu, Mali” group in the GHN Community to help raise awareness of threats to this important Islamic learning center, and to discuss solutions for its long-term preservation
Click here to explore Timbuktu, Mali on Global Heritage Network (GHN)