The United States is condemning the destruction of two more tombs in northern Mali as international outrage grows over Islamist militants' attacks on historic and religious landmarks in the nation.
Islamists ordered residents to leave the area and started razing the tombs in Timbuktu this week, witnesses said. "They were shooting in the air to warn people of going near and entering the area," local resident Allimam Oumar said of the Tuesday attacks. "The militants think the shrines are idolatrous."
The tombs, a common feature on Timbuktu postcards, are the latest in attacks on landmarks listed as U.N. World Heritage sites. Islamic militants have gone on a rampage for months, destroying sacred tombs in the city and vowing to target more. In May, elderly men kept watch over the main library after Islamists burned a different tomb in another attack in Timbuktu.
"We are outraged by the continued destruction of these World Heritage sites and the ongoing intimidation of local populations," said Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department . "We ... call for all parties to protect this invaluable cultural heritage for future generations. This is an assault not just on Mali but on the heritage of all Africans."
Ansar Dine, an al Qaeda-linked group claiming control of the city, is blamed for the attacks on historical landmarks.
The picturesque city of Timbuktu is considered an important destination for Islamic scholars, and features ancient and prominent burial sites. Islamist militants regard such shrines as idolatrous and thus prohibited in their religion.