SEVARE, Mali French and Malian military forces closed in on the fabled city of Timbuktu on Monday with armed Islamist extremists having fled into the desert after setting a library holding ancient manuscripts ablaze.
The al-Qaida-linked militants occupied Timbuktu for almost 10 months, imposing the strict Islamic version of Shariah, or religious law, across northern Mali while carrying out amputations and public executions.
The mayor of Timbuktu said Monday that the Islamists had torched his office as well as the Ahmed Baba institute — a library rich with historical documents — in an act of retaliation before they fled late last week from the city of mud-walled buildings.
“It’s truly alarming that this has happened,” Mayor Ousmane Halle told The Associated Press by telephone from Bamako. “They torched all the important ancient manuscripts. The ancient books of geography and science. It is the history of Timbuktu, of its people.”
He said he didn’t have further details as communications to the city have been cut off.
The French-led military operation against the Islamists, who seized the northern half of Mali last year, began 17 days ago when the insurgents encroached further toward the south.
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