By Alex Johnston
Epoch Times StaffCreated: January 28, 2013Last Updated: January 28, 2013

The mayor of Timbuktu said Monday that Islamist rebels burned a library containing ancient and priceless texts and manuscripts as French and Malian troops surrounded the fabled city in northern Mali.

“It’s truly alarming that this has happened,” Ousmane Halle, the mayor of the city, told The Associated Press on Monday. “They torched all the important ancient manuscripts. The ancient books of geography and science. It is the history of Timbuktu, of its people.”

Ousmane described the damage as “tragic.” He said, “The Ahmed Baba centre, which holds valuable manuscripts, has been burned by the Islamists. It is a complete cultural crime.”

The Ahmed Baba Centre for Documentation and Research, which was setup in 1973, had a collection of between 60,000 and 100,000 manuscripts. Radio France Internationale (RFI) said that the library held ancient Muslim as well as ancient Greek texts.

Ousmane also said that the Islamists burned a man alive who shouted “Vive le France,” according to the broadcaster.

It was unclear how much damage was done to the library or how many of the texts were destroyed in the fire, saying that it took place around four days ago, reported Reuters, citing Ousmane.

The Islamist rebels took over much of northern Mali—an area the size of the state of Texas—in March and April last year and until recently, threatened to march on the capital of Bamako. It wasn’t until after French troops arrived that their hold over the area was broken.

While they controlled much of northern Mali, the rebels imposed their own brand of sharia law, which according to human rights groups, resulted in rights abuses.

There were also reports that the rebels destroyed shrines of Muslim saints in Timbuktu, which was the cultural center of Islam in Africa during the 15th and 16th centuries, and other towns, saying that the shrines are idolatrous. Some tombs and other ancient structures were also destroyed and damaged. One of the tombs destroyed belonged to Sidi (Mahmoud Ben) Amar, a famous 10th century Muslim saint.

As French and Malian forces approached Timbuktu, they saw little to no resistance by the rebels, who mostly fled the area. They now control the northern roads going into the city and the airport.

“The Malian army and the French army are in complete control of the town of Timbuktu. Everything is under control,” Malian army colonel, who was not named on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

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