Timbuktu heritage site destroyed by Islamists in Mali as civil war fears grow

The ancient city of Timbuktu is being destroyed. Credit: Reuters

Footage has emerged from the world heritage site of Timbuktu in Mali being destroyed by a group of men armed with pickaxes and kalashnikovs. The video, filmed in northern Mali on Sunday, shows the group destroying a tomb of what is believed to be the ancient mausoleum of Alpha Moya.

The International Criminal Court has described the destruction of the site as a possible war crime and UNESCO is due to hold a special session next week to discuss the situation.

The destruction of the site is the latest in a wave of violence to hit the north of what is one of the world's poorest countries.

The rebellion in the north of the country was one of the causes of the military coup that toppled the country's civilian government in March. Large parts of the country are under siege with government troops unable to enter and many residents report being trapped in their towns as the factions that led the rebellion begin to split, and fight for territory.

The Islamic faction, known as Ansar Dine, or "Protectors of the Faith," seized control of Timbuktu last week after ousting the Tuareg rebel faction that had invaded northern Mali three months ago.

Over last weekend, fighters screaming "Allah Akbar" descended on the cemeteries and systematically began destroying the six most famous tombs as they believe the tombs are not consistent with Islamic law.

Reached by telephone in an undisclosed location in northern Mali, a spokesman for the faction said they do not recognise either the United Nations or the world court.

Concerns about the escalating security crisis in Mali come amid criticism of the Bamako-based transitional government, intended to steer the country back to civilian rule after a military coup in March.

The capital has witnessed numerous demonstrations since the coup, including protests against the government and calls from northerners to give them arms to fight against Islamist occupation.