The Associated Press is reporting that the Ansar Dine faction of al Qaeda, currently holding Timbuktu in Mali, have destroyed 90% of the city"s ancient Sufi tombs.
It is feared they may soon start on Timbuktu's mosques if they contain relics of saints, the veneration of which the group considers idolatry.
In addition to destroying the Sufi tombs in Timbuktu, the group threatens to destroy over 300,000 historical Islamic texts that reside in the city within the tombs and in public and private collections.
The Ansar Dine has claimed these texts are heretical.
Slate.com reports that Ansar Dine spokesman Sanda Ould Boumam claims the group plans to "destroy every mausoleum in the city - all of them, without exception".
The action has led to international outcry and pleas of forbearance from UNESCO, which recently placed Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia on its List of World Heritage in Danger.
The Washington Post reports that Ansar Dine said they did not care about the impact of their actions on tourism and that tourism fostered "debauchery."
Private radio station RFM reports that the International Criminal Court is considering prosecuting the group with war crimes.
Mali is often considered one of the last unspoiled destinations for adventure travel and intrepid backpackers.
It is also the site of a highly popular annual music festival, The Festival in the Desert, held in January in Essakane, a few hours drive north of Timbuktu.
As of July 5, both the US and British Consulates are asking citizens to avoid all travel to Mali.
In November 2011 an armed group of kidnappers connected with al Qaeda abducted three tourists in Timbuktu and killed a fourth.
by Gretchen Kelly, TravelMole US
Friday, July 6, 2012