London: French troops have seized the historic city of Timbuktu in Mali after advancing north into an area held by Islamist militants.
As they fled, the insurgents apparently set fire to a library that is home to thousands of ancient manuscripts, an act described by the city’s mayor as a ‘devastating blow’ to world heritage.
According to Sky News, amid the apparent relief among local people, there was anger among people who said that they were helpless to stop the Islamists burning ancient documents at the city’s main library, the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Islamic Studies and Research.
Some of the documents date back to the 13th century, which had been built over centuries of life in Timbuktu, that have all either burned by the Jihadists or they have disappeared, the report said.
The city’s mayor, Ousmane Halle, said that ‘they torched all the important ancient manuscripts, which included the ancient books of geography and science. It is the history of Timbuktu, of its people. It`s truly alarming that this has happened.’
During their rule, the militants systematically destroyed UNESCO World Heritage sites in Timbuktu, long a hub of Islamic learning.
UNESCO said that one of those destroyed was the tomb of Sidi Mahmoudou, a saint who died in 955.
A spokesman for the al Qaeda-linked militants has said the tombs were destroyed because they contravened Islam, encouraging Muslims to venerate saints instead of God.
Ground forces backed by French paratroopers and helicopters had taken control of Timbuktu’s airport and the roads leading to the town in an overnight operation.
It is part of the French-led mission to oust the radical Islamists from the northern half of Mali, which they seized more than nine months ago in the wake of a military coup in the distant capital of Bamako, the report said.
The French and Malian forces so far have met little resistance, it added.