French troops managed to seize the famous town of Timbuktu over the weekend, but not before feeling rebels continued their assault not just on the people, but on the very culture and history of the region. The mayor of Timbuktu says that the Islamist group that was holding the city set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless manuscripts, some more than 1,000 years old. The documents, mostly in Arabic, chronicle the geography, history, and science of the Sahara region and of Isalm itself. The mayor described the loss as "the history of Timbuktu, of its people" and a "devastating blow" to world culture.
Ever since taking over northern Mali last year, the militant Islamic groups launched a concerted effort to destroy the historical artifacts of the regions, particularly those that related to ancient Islamic saints. The rebels claim that the worship of saints is idolatry, and goes against the strictest laws of Islam. They have defaced or destroyed dozens of mosques and ancient tombs, including several on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One of the buildings housing the manuscripts was a brand new research center built with funds from South Africa.