BAMAKO, Mali (AP) ? Despite international condemnation, the radical Islamic faction controlling the northern Malian outpost of Timbuktu continued destroying the city's ancient tombs on Monday, laying waste to the city's five-hundred-year-old heritage.
The destruction began on Saturday, after the al-Qaida-linked faction Ansar Dine secured its hold on the three main towns in northern Mali, including Timbuktu. They descended on the tombs of the city's Sufi saints with axes and shovels, as well as automatic weapons, saying that they were idolatrous. Their destruction spree continued through Monday.
"This morning, the Islamists continued breaking the mausoleums. This is our patrimony, recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO," said Aboubacrine Cisse, a resident of the town who slipped outside on Monday to witness the destruction. "They are continuing to destroy all the tombs of all the saints of Timbuktu, and our city counts 333 saints," he said.
The U.N. cultural agency has called for an immediate halt to the destruction of the sacred tombs. Irina Bokova, who heads the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, cited in a statement Saturday reports that the centuries-old mausoleums of Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi, Moctar and Alpha Moya had been destroyed. Meeting in St. Petersburg in Russia, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, last week placed the mausoleums on its list of sites in danger at the request of Mali's government.
And in Dakar, Senegal, on Sunday, Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, said that the destruction of the city's patrimony constitutes a "possible war crime," according to private radio station RFM.
Reached by telephone in an undisclosed location in northern Mali, a spokesman for the Islamic faction said that they do not recognize either the United Nations or the world court.
"The only tribunal we recognize is the divine court of Shariah," said one of Ansar Dine's spokesmen, Oumar Ould Hamaha.
"The destruction is a divine order," he said. "It's our Prophet who said that each time that someone builds something on top of a grave, it needs to be pulled back to the ground. We need to do this so that future generations don't get confused, and start venerating the saints as if they are God."
For years before the north of Mali became a base for an offshoot of al-Qaida, Timbuktu was a must-see for backpackers and package tour groups. Much of the city thrived on tourism, from young men who memorized the history of the tombs to act as tour guides to the numerous hotels and restaurants, nearly all of which are now shuttered.
Hamaha said he didn't care about the impact that their actions will have on tourism.
"We are against tourism. They foster debauchery," he said.
Associated Press writers Rukmini Callimachi and Sadibou Marone contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.Associated Press