BAMAKO (Reuters) - Al Qaeda-linked Islamists in Timbuktu broke down the door to a 15th century mosque on Monday that locals believed had to stay shut until the end of the world, defying international calls to halt the destruction of holy sites in the UNESCO-listed city.
In a third day of attacks on historic and religious landmarks that UNESCO has called "wanton destruction", the Islamists targeted the ancient Sidi Yahya mosque as they tried to erase traces of what they regard as un-Islamic idolatry.
"In legend, it is said that the main gate of Sidi Yahya mosque will not be opened until the last day (of the world)," Alpha Abdoulahi, the town imam, told Reuters by telephone.
Yet eight Islamist fighters had smashed down the door to the mosque early on Monday, saying they wanted to "destroy the mystery" of the ancient entrance, he said.
"They offered me 50,000 CFA ($100) for repairs but I refused to take the money, saying that what they did is irreparable."
Islamists of the Ansar Dine group say the centuries-old shrines of the local Sufi version of Islam in Timbuktu are idolatrous. They have so far destroyed at least eight of 16 listed mausoleums in the city, together with a number of tombs.
Monday, July 2, 2012
Mali: Pious Allah's followers pursue wrecking of Timbuktu in acts of "wanton destruction"