Timbuktu sites attacked

May 7, 2012 at 9:53 AM

TIMBUKTU, Mali, May 7 (UPI) -- A spokesman for a militant group in Mali, suspected of having ties to al-Qaida, said saints revered in Timbuktu shouldn't be adored.

A World Heritage site in Mali's central city of Timbuktu was attacked by suspected militants during the weekend.

"A new member of the Ansar Dine group came to Timbuktu and went to the tomb of Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar on Friday to tell the faithful praying there that the saints" should not be adored, spokesman Sanda Ould Boumama was quoted by al-Jazeera as saying.

The Arabic broadcaster describes Ansar Dine as an Islamic group allied with Tuareg rebels who've claimed independence for northern Mali following a military coup in late March.

The rebel movement is said to be divided between separatist and al-Qaida factions. Al-Jazeera adds that witnesses to the attack on Timbuktu believed some of the perpetrators were members of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African branch of al-Qaida.

A director of a local radio station told the Arab broadcaster that frustrated residents would hold demonstrations to protest the desecration of the tombs in Timbuktu.

U.N. officials have expressed concern about the reports of fighting in Timbuktu. The historic city is home to mosques listed as World Heritage sites.

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