July 2 (GIN) – For a third day, Islamist militants in Mali’s historic city Timbuktu attacked and damaged ancient sites, despite international threats of prosecution.

The al-Qaida-linked group Ansar Dine reportedly began Saturday raining blows on Timbuktu’s independence monument, which depicts Al Farouk, a symbol of the ancient city, on a horse. On Monday, the group targeted the 15th-century Sidi Yahya mosque, tearing off the entrance door.

“In legend, it is said that the main gate of Sidi Yahya mosque will not be opened until the last day (of the world),” Alpha Abdoulahi, the town imam, told Reuters by telephone.

Yet eight Islamist fighters smashed down the door to the mosque early on Monday, saying they wanted to “destroy the mystery” of the ancient entrance, he said.

“They offered me 50,000 CFA for repairs but I refused to take the money, saying that what they did is irreparable.”

Islamists of the Ansar Dine group say the centuries-old shrines of the local Sufi version of Islam in Timbuktu are idolatrous. They have so far destroyed at least eight of 16 listed mausoleums in the city, together with a number of tombs.

“My message to those involved in these criminal acts is clear: stop the destruction of the religious buildings now,” said Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in a press interview. “This is a war crime which my office has authority to fully investigate.”

Even rebels of the MNLA, the other Tuareg separatist group, criticised the Islamists’ destruction of holy sites, underlining a rift between the two groups that once joined forces to take over the north of the country.

Speaking to the news agency Reuters, MNLA spokesman Hama Ag Mahmoud said: “The perpetrators of these heinous acts, their sponsors, and those who support them must be made accountable.” Some 3000 troops of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS are reportedly preparing for deployment to the region.