BAMAKO, Sept 29 – Islamists destroyed Saturday another tomb of a Muslim saint in a northern Mali region under their control, witnesses said.
“I saw the Islamists in Goundam destroy the mausoleum of Alfa Mobo, beside the cemetery,” local municipal councillor Mamadou Cisse told AFP.
Another witness, who declined to be identified, said, “They smashed the mausoleum down to the level of the tomb.”
He added that “there were 11 of them and someone was filming it.”
The witnesses said the Islamists were armed with axes and other tools.
Goundam, 90 kilometres (55 miles) from Timbuktu, is in the hands of the Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), which with other radicals has been destroying local Muslim shrines since seizing northern Mali in April.
The Islamists say the shrines, venerated by local people and declared part of the world’s heritage by the United Nations, are “haram”, or forbidden in Islam.
Ansar Dine sparked widespread condemnation when they began destroying the renowned cultural treasures of Timbuktu on July 1, shortly after UNESCO placed them on a list of endangered World Heritage sites.
They destroyed seven of Timbuktu’s 16 mausolea of ancient Muslim saints and the sacred door of the 15th-century Sidi Yahya mosque.
On September 15 militants of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) demolished the mausoleum of another saint, Cheik El-Kebir, 330 kilometres (200 miles) north of the city of Gao.
Kebir’s tomb is venerated by the Kunta tribe whose members live in Mali, Algeria, Mauritania and Niger.
Tuareg rebels initially seized northern Mali in the chaotic aftermath of a March coup in the capital Bamako, but were themselves quickly swept aside by Islamist extremists who have imposed Sharia law.
Control is now shared by Ansar Dine, MUJAO and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), arousing fears that they intend to use the vast region as a base to spread their creed by violence across neighbouring countries.
The UN Human Rights Council on Friday accused them of “violence against women and children, killings, hostage-taking, pillaging, theft, destruction of cultural and religious sites and recruitment of child soldiers”.
It also voiced concern over “the impact of the activities of organised transnational crime networks on the situation of human rights in Mali and in other countries in the region”.
West Africa’s 15-state ECOWAS bloc wants to send troops to wrest northern Mali out of the Islamists’ hands but the United Nations is reluctant to give its approval.