Ignorant militants destroy ancient Islamic documents and writings; from yesterday’s BBC News:
A group of jihadis came knocking at the gate late on Wednesday night last week. But the Ahmed Baba centre in the Malian city of Timbuktu is not the kind of library that would accept visitors after dark.
The Islamist militants tricked the guard and said they were coming to secure the place. But once inside, they ransacked the centre’s reading room.
When historian Abdoulaye Cisse arrived early in the morning, the pile of ashes was still warm.
“They probably spent most of the night in there,” he said.
Dozens of empty handcrafted boxes still litter the floor of the hallway. Ashes haven’t been removed yet either.
A few people come in and out surveying the irreparable damage and lament the remains of a cultural trove kept in Timbuktu for centuries.
Treasure trove of African history
At least 2,000 manuscripts were stored in this centre that was opened in 2009, funded by the South African government.
The project was meant to catalogue and preserve the city’s historical documents, many of which continue to be held by families or smaller libraries.
Another 28,000 were due to be transferred to the Ahmed Baba premises but were instead sent to the capital after al-Qaeda militants arrived in the city last year.
Each box is tagged with a reference number and if the search is properly done, these tags should reveal the full extent of the damage.
It could also reveal how many were simply stolen.
“These fighters know too well how much these papers are valued, it’s a huge wealth that will be impossible to replace,” Mr Cisse told the BBC.
The Institute’s manuscripts date back to the 13th century (file image)
“When I surveyed the reading room, I found about 30 left so I brought them home to secure them,” he said.
The offending texts ranged from history to geography and astronomy, medicine and Islamic law; writings dating back in some cases as far as the 13th Century.
In the reading room, shelves were emptied and the desk equipped with a magnifying glass vandalised.
Named after a saint of the ancient city who wrote many manuscripts himself, the Ahmed Baba centre stands out for its modernity but was designed to echo the famous Timbuktu style of dry-mud walls.
The Islamist militants prepared to flee last week knowing that an assault by the French-led forces on their positions here was imminent.
But in their haste, they took the time to commit one last act of vengeance.
They had sparked worldwide condemnation last year when they destroyed sacred tombs and shrines designated as Unesco World Heritage sites on the pretext that they violated principles of Islamic law.
Timbuktu was a centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th Centuries
700,000 manuscripts had survived in public libraries and private collections
Books on religion, law, literature and science
Elhadj Djitteye, who used to guide visitors in town, reckons that the fighters linked to al-Qaeda carried out the attack on the library in response to the French military intervention ordered earlier in January by President Francois Hollande.
Noting that the jihadis hadn’t touched the manuscripts in 10 months of occupation, Mr Djitteye sadly comments that they “hit Timbuktu straight at its heart”.
The militants’ destructive parting gesture left many residents feeling that another part of their celebrated city’s history had just been erased.
The people of Timbuktu have been anxious to return to some kind of normal life since the French and Malian troops entered they city and were hailed as “liberators”.
Reminders of the extremists, like the black banners proclaiming sharia at the city gates, are being removed.
But in just under a year, the Islamist militants have inflicted lasting damage on Mali’s most renowned cultural centre. The scars left by Timbuktu’s occupation are likely to take much longer to heal.
• Timbuktu was a centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th Centuries
700,000 manuscripts survive in public libraries and private collections, books on religion, law, literature and science
• Added to Unesco world heritage list in 1988 for its three mosques and 16 cemeteries and mausoleums
• They played a major role in spreading Islam in West Africa; the oldest dates from 1329
• Islamists destroyed mausoleums after seizing the city
Last year, we were honored to have a member of the Algerian Seal team at our table for dinner. Together with the French, they got the job done clearing the rats out of Mali in short time.
From today’s BBC News:
Three weeks of French targeted air strikes in northern Mali have left Islamist militants “in disarray”, France’s defence minister has said.
Jean-Yves Le Drian said the jihadists had now scattered, marking a “turning-point” in France’s intervention.
His comments come as the French troops continue to secure Kidal, the last town occupied by militants.
France is preparing to hand over towns it has captured to an African force, which has begun to deploy to Mali.
So far about 2,000 African soldiers, mainly from Chad and Niger, are thought to be on the ground.
It will be the job of the African Union-backed force, the International Support Mission to Mali (Afisma), to root out the al-Qaeda-linked insurgents that have fled into the desert and mountains further north.
Meanwhile, at least two Malian soldiers have been killed when their vehicle hit a landmine south-west of Gao.
Mr Le Drian said that some militants in Mali and been on a “military adventure and have returned home”.
Others had made a “tactical withdrawal to the Adrar des Ifoghas”, the mountainous region east of Kidal covering some 250,000 sq km (96,525 sq miles), he said.
Although this was now a turning-point for France, he said it did not mean that “the military risks and the fighting has ended”.
He also said he backed the idea of sending a UN peacekeeping force to Mali.
The BBC’s Christian Fraser in Paris says the UN Security Council had previously been uncomfortable about deploying a force under a UN mandate, but support is growing.
Envoys believe it would easier to monitor and prevent human rights abuses if the UN could pick and choose which national contingents to use, he says.
A French army spokesman in Bamako, Lieutenant-Colonel Emmanuel Dosseur, told the BBC French Service that France’s special forces were in Kidal, but the majority of troops were still at the airport.
A heavy sandstorm that had hampered operations on Wednesday was starting to clear, and troops may soon be able to continue their deployment, he said.
Haminy Maiga, who heads the regional assembly in Kidal, said he had witnessed no fighting as French forces entered and two helicopters were patrolling overhead.
Correspondents say the bigger problem is how to manage the concerns of the separatist Tuareg fighters in Kidal – the only city in the north to have a majority ethnic Tuareg population.
Chad’s army is full of experienced desert fighters needed to fight the militants
The secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said its fighters would support the French but would not allow the return of the Malian army, which it accused of “crimes against the civilian population”.
Human rights groups have accused the Malian army of targeting ethnic Tuareg and Arab civilians.
The Tuareg rebels launched the insurgency in October 2011 before falling out with the Islamist militants.
The Islamist fighters extended their control of the vast north of Mali in April 2012, in the wake of a military coup.
An MNLA spokesman told the BBC that its fighters had entered Kidal on Saturday and found no Islamist militants there.
Kidal was until recently under the control of the Ansar Dine Islamist group, which has strong ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The Islamic Movement of Azawad (IMA), which recently split from Ansar Dine, had said that it was in control of Kidal.
The IMA, which has Tuareg fighters amongst its members, has also said it rejects “extremism and terrorism” and wants a peaceful solution.
France – the former colonial power in Mali – launched a military operation this month after the Islamist militants appeared to be threatening the south.