Islamist extremists have set fire to a library containing historic manuscripts as they fled French and Malian forces closing in on Timbuktu.
Without a shot being fired, 1,000 French soldiers including paratroopers and 200 Malian troops descended on the centuries-old Niger River city, as they tried to block the escape of al Qaeda-allied fighters.
But before they could be rounded up, the ragtag rebels scattered in fear into the surrounding desert, torching many priceless ancient books 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.
The Ahmed Baba Institute, one of several libraries and collections in the city containing fragile ancient documents dating back to the 13th century, is named after a Timbuktu-born contemporary of William Shakespeare and houses more than 20,000 scholarly manuscripts. Some were stored in underground vaults.
Speaking by phone, Mr 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.’
‘It’s truly alarming that this has happened,’ he added. Mr Halle had not details of whether the rebels were still in the town.
Ousmane was not able to immediately say how much the concrete building had been damaged. He added the rebels also torched his office and the home of a member of parliament.
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