Screenshot from a video of a saint’s tomb being destroyed in Timbuktu. The video was sent by one of our Observers, who was on the scene.
Radical Islamists, who took control of Timbuktu in April, have been relentlessly destroying the tombs of Sufi saints, which are the pride of this pious city’s residents. One of our Observers there told us he feels helpless and powerless against the disappearance of ancestral symbols of his culture, which the Islamists consider to be idolatrous.
Invited by the Islamists themselves, a journalist from Al-Jazeera filmed the fighters from the Ansar Dine movement as they destroyed two tombs at the great mosque of Djingareyber with the help of clubs and picks. Djingareyber is one of the three main religious shrines in Timbuktu, but also a pilgrimage destination for Sufi Muslims.
In early July, the same Salafist group had already shattered seven of the town’s 16 saints’ tombs and destroyed the door to the mosque of Sidi Yahia. Two months earlier, the tomb of the scholar Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar -- one of the Sufi saints most venerated by Timbuktu citizens -- that was burned to the ground. Sufism is considered heretical by defenders of radical Islam.
For almost three months now, Salafists from the Ansar Dine movement as well as members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) have imposed Sharia law in Timbuktu. Faced with the threat posed against the cultural heritage of this city, UNESCO declared Timbuktu an endangered World Heritage Site on June 28.
Video filmed between July 1 and 2, 2012, outside of the destruction of mausoleums in Timbuktu. Sent by one of our Observers who was on the scene.

“Timbuktu residents are completely demoralized”

Bakary M. (not his real name) is a merchant in Timbuktu.
I witnessed the destruction. There were between 40 and 50 assailants. After having blocked traffic, they destroyed two tombs attached to the great mosque of Djingareyber. They then covered the rubble with sand. After that, they sought to repair the parts of the mosque that they themselves had damaged. [The two tombs that were destroyed were adjacent to an exterior wall of the mosque.]
The tombs that were destroyed had a national and international reputation, and had helped make our city known throughout the world. In addition to being outraged, the people today are completely demoralized, because all of Timbuktu’s culture is disappearing.
"We are angry with the government that abandoned us, leaving us in the hands of these insurgents"
We are angry with the government that abandoned us, leaving us in the hands of these insurgents. And we are revolted because they have begun to treat us as a colony. They have imposed on us a radical version of Islam that had never before been seen in Timbuktu. Even imams can no longer speak freely.
We no longer have access to television or radio. Before, life was pleasant here. Now, everything is complicated. And added to this is the burden of the economy. I do not know one family who has the equivalent of a dollar in their pocket. Supply trucks arrive almost empty. Electricity is also scarce.
We have even lost the freedom to move. Yesterday, for example, there were warning shots fired in the air. Rallies, marches and meetings are immediately dispersed. Today, the streets of the city are empty. The citizens of Timbuktu stay at home, more depressed than ever.