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French And Malian Forces Take Airport In Timbuktu; Islamists Burn Library

Posted: January 28, 2013

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It's feared that thousands of ancient manuscripts may have been destroyed in the fire. The oldest is said to date to 1204. Meanwhile, French and Malian forces are securing the ancient city and searching for the Islamist extremists.

A French soldier in central Mali on Sunday.

A French soldier in central Mali on Sunday. Nic Bothma

Mali.

While French and Malian forces have taken control of Timbuktu's airport in what NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports may be a turning point in their fight against Islamist extremists, there's also word that before the Islamists fled the ancient city they set fire to a library that holds "thousands of priceless ancient manuscripts."

Timbuktu's mayor, adds The Guardian, says the loss of any of those texts would be a "devastating blow" to world heritage. Some date back to the 13th century, the Guardian writes. It says they:

"Survived for centuries in Timbuktu on the edge of the Sahara hidden in wooden trunks, boxes beneath the sand and caves. The majority are written in Arabic, with some in African languages, and one in Hebrew, and cover a diverse range of topics including astronomy, poetry, music, medicine and women's rights. The oldest dated from 1204."

Their destruction follows last year's news about historical sites in Timbuktu that the extremists had destroyed, including tombs and other sites sacred to Sufis.

According to Reuters, French and Malian troops are searching for extremists in and around Timbuktu and are in the process of securing the city.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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