Al Qaeda-linked fighters in control of northern and eastern of Mali have begun destroying ancient tombs in the city of Timbuktu.
Rebels from the Islamist Ansar Dine group used Kalashnikovs and pick-axes to attack shrines of key Islamic saints. Reports suggest three mausoleums including the tomb of Sidi Mahmoud, a revered Muslim scholar, have been destroyed.
Timbuktu was part of a large region of Mali that was seized by the Islamists and Tuareg rebels earlier this year. The pair declared an independent state of Azawad. The two groups have since fallen out and Ansar Dine says the territory is now under their control.
Last week UNESCO declared Timbuktu an endangered world heritage site over fears for its architecture after months of fighting in the area. The UN body has described the attacks as “tragic”.
Located on an old Saharan trading route, Timbuktu became the centre of Islamic learning between the 13th and 17th centuries.