BAMAKO - Heavily armed Islamists bulldozed the tombs of three local Sufi saints near Mali's desert city of Timbuktu on Thursday, residents said, the latest in a series of attacks in the rebel-held north that critics say threaten its cultural heritage.
"They arrived aboard six or seven vehicles, heavily armed," said Garba Maiga, a resident of Timbuktu, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its ancient shrines. "They flattened everything with a bulldozer and pulled up the skeletal remains."
Residents said the rebels were from Ansar Dine, one of a mixture of Islamist groups now in control of northern Mali.
The destruction of the tombs follows an attack on another shrine outside Timbuktu at the end of September and several others in July.
Mali descended into chaos in March when soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that led to Islamist fighters, some allied al-Qaida, seizing the northern two-thirds of the country.
The UN Security Council last week passed a resolution urging African regional groups and the United Nations to present a specific plan within 45 days for military intervention in Mali to help government troops reclaim the north.