BAMAKO - Islamist gunmen destroyed several tombs in Timbuktu on Sunday, residents said, days after the United Nations authorized African states to ready a force to take on al-Qaida-linked groups in Mali's northern desert zones.
"Since 0800 (GMT) this morning, the Islamists have been destroying tombs again," Youssouf Toure, a resident of the ancient trading town, told Reuters by telephone.
"(They are) targeting new ones and the ones they destroyed several months ago," he added.
Residents said the attacks on traditional Sufi Islamic shrines were being carried out by about 15 heavily-armed fighters, some wielding pick axes. At least two previously untouched tombs in Timbuktu, a UNESCO world heritage site, were destroyed on Sunday, residents said.
A mix of Islamists with links to al-Qaida have occupied Mali's north since April.