The desecration of Timbuktu: Fleeing Islamists destroy priceless treasures before French forces closed in

by MATT BLAKE, Daily Mail  |  published on January 30, 2013

Islamist extremists have set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts as they fled French and Malian forces closing in on Timbuktu.

Without firing a shot, 1,000 French soldiers backed by 200 Malian troops descended on the ancient desert trading post, as they tried to cut off the escape of al Qaeda-linked fighters.

But before they could be rounded up, the ragtag rebels scattered into the desert, torching homes, mosques and libraries, including the city’s £16-million Ahmed Baba Institute, home to some 20,000 ancient documents on culture, science and geography, as they left.

It comes as Prime Minister David Cameron assured French president Francois Hollande that Britain is ‘keen’ to help Paris with its military operation to oust the marauding militants.

Build by the South African government in 2009, the Ahmed Baba Institute was named after a Timbuktu-born contemporary of William Shakespeare and holds thousands of priceless manuscripts in its climate-controlled, underground vaults.

Speaking by phone, city mayor Ousmane Halle said: ‘They torched all the important ancient manuscripts. The ancient books of geography and science. It is the history of Timbuktu, of its people.’

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