The once cosmopolitan town became a dusty outpost for the extremists who
forced women to wear veils, whipped and stoned those who violated their
version of strict Islamic law, and destroyed ancient Muslim shrines they
considered “idolatrous”.

The Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research of Ahmad Baba

Timbuktu mayor Halley Ousmane, who is in Bamako, confirmed the fire at the
Ahmed Baba Centre for Documentation and Research which housed between 60,000
and 100,000 manuscripts, according to Mali’s culture ministry.

“I spoke to my media officer this morning. What has happened in Timbuktu
is dramatic,” he said.

Ousmane said he had been informed that Islamists had “burnt alive” a
resident who had cried out “Vive la France”.

The Ahmed Baba institute was set up in 1973. In 2009, a new building was
opened following a bilateral agreement with South Africa to promote the
conservation, research and promotion of the manuscripts as African heritage.

“A building housing the manuscripts was burned,” a security source
told AFP.

The advance into Timbuktu known as “the City of 333 Saints”, which
lies 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) north of Mali’s capital Bamako, comes a
day after French and Malian soldiers seized another Islamist bastion, the
eastern town of Gao.

The French defence ministry said “several terrorist groups were destroyed
or chased to the north” after the conquest of Gao.

A Chadian soldier secures Gao airport (AP)

Gao is the biggest of six towns seized by French and Malian troops since they
launched their offensive on January 11 to wrest the vast desert north from
the Islamists.

The largest town yet to be recaptured is Kidal further north near the Algerian
border, which was the first to be seized by an alliance of Tuareg rebels and
Islamic extremists in April last year.

The unlikely partnership between the independence-seeking Tuareg and
sharia-driven Islamists quickly fell apart and the extremists took firm
control of the north, sparking fears the zone could become a haven for
terror groups.

In early January the Islamists broke through into the government-held south,
raising fears that they could seize the capital Bamako and prompting
intervention by former colonial power France.

Eighteen days after the intervention, France now has 2,900 soldiers in Mali.

Nearly 8,000 African troops from Chad and the west African grouping ECOWAS are
expected to take over the baton from the French troops, but their deployment
has been sluggish with 2,700 split between Mali and Niger.

The African-led force will require a budget of $460 million, the African Union
said on the final day of its summit in Addis Ababa on Monday, promising to
contribute $50 million for the mission.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has appealed for more aid for the Mali
effort.

A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday that London was “keen”
to contribute more in addition to two transport planes and a surveillance
aircraft it has already provided.

On Monday a French helicopter carrier, the Dixmude, arrived in the Senegalese
capital Dakar carrying hundreds of troops as well as vehicles and materiel
to be transported to neighbouring Mali.

There have been reports of reprisal attacks and the killing of Tuaregs, a
Berber people, and Arabs leading the rebellion against Bamako by Malian
soldiers and the local people.

“We have already witnessed reprisals … and thousands of people going
into exile fearing for their lives,” said Corinne Dufka, a researcher
from Human Rights Watch, urging immediate action from authorities to lower
tensions.

Source: AFP

Mali: French troops encircle Timbuktu as fleeing Islamists burn ancient scrolls – Telegraph.co.uk
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