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Militiaman from the Ansar Dine ride on a vehicle at Kidal in northeastern Mali in June.

Adama Diarra/Reuters

Islamists have destroyed the tomb of a Muslim saint in a northern Mali region under their control, two months after similar incidents in the region brought widespread condemnation, sources said Monday.

"The Islamists on Saturday destroyed the mausoleum of Sheik El-Kebir, 330 kilometres from Gao," a local politician told AFP on condition of anonymity. "Twelve of them arrived at the site. They demolished the mausoleum with hammers, picks."

The sources said the Islamist militant Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (known by its French acronym MUJAO) was responsible for the destruction.

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"Today in Gao, the Islamists boasted about the destruction of the mausoleum of Sheik El-Kebir. They said they had smashed the mausoleum on Saturday," a town leader who would not give his name told AFP. "This is a crime," he added.

Oumar Ould Gaddy, a Gao resident who is believed to be close to MUJAO, confirmed the reports.

"Sheik El-Kebir's mausoleum north of Gao was destroyed. That's true," he said. "The Islamists have confirmed this. There is another mausoleum which they will also destroy soon."

Kebir's tomb is venerated by the Kunta tribe whose members live in Mali, Algeria, Mauritania and Niger.

The latest attack came two months after Islamists destroyed two tombs at the ancient Djingareyber mud mosque in Timbuktu soon after taking over northern Mali amid chaos in the wake of a coup attempt in the capital Bamako.

The fighters from the Islamist group Ansar Dine, or Defenders of Faith, began their destruction of the city's cultural treasures on July 1, shortly after the United Nation's education and culture agency, UNESCO, placed them on a list of endangered World Heritage sites.

Declaring the ancient Muslim shrines "haram," or forbidden in Islam, Ansar Dine set about destroying seven of Timbuktu's 16 mausoleums of ancient Muslim saints.

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They also destroyed the sacred door of the 15th-century Sidi Yahya mosque.

Along with Sidi Yahya, Djingareyber and the Sankore mosque bear witness to Timbuktu's golden age as an intellectual and spiritual capital which was crucial in the spread of Islam throughout Africa.

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