Al Qaida-linked Islamists in Timbuktu broke down the door to a 15th century mosque today that locals believed had to stay shut until the end of the world, defying international calls to halt the destruction of holy sites in the Unesco-listed city.
In a third day of attacks on historic and religious landmarks that Unesco has called “wanton destruction”, the Islamists targeted the ancient Sidi Yahya mosque as they tried to erase traces of what they regard as un-Islamic idolatry.
“In legend, it is said that the main gate of Sidi Yahya mosque will not be opened until the last day (of the world),” Alpha Abdoulahi, the town imam, told Reuters by telephone.
The door on the south end of the mosque has been closed for centuries due to local beliefs that to open it will bring misfortune.
It leads to a tomb of saints, however the Islamists appeared unaware of this as one witness said if they had known “they would have broken everything.”
According to the website of the UN cultural agency (UNESCO) Sidi Yahya is one of Timbuktu’s three great mosques and was built around 1400, dating back to the city’s golden age as a desert crossroads and centre for learning.
The three mosques formed the ‘university’ of the fabled city, also known as the “City of 333 Saints”.