Detail map of Rondebosch, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa,Timbuktu, Tombouctou Region, Mali,Dar Salam, Bamako, Bamako Capital District, Mali

A: Rondebosch, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, B: Timbuktu, Tombouctou Region, Mali, C: Dar Salam, Bamako, Bamako Capital District, Mali

Part of Library of the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu is Burned

1/28/2013 to 1/30/2013

On January 28, 2013 it was widely reported that the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research (CEDRAB) in Timbuktu (Tombouctou), Mali, the repository of 30,000 historic manuscripts from the ancient Muslim world, was set aflame by Islamist fighters.

On the same day Vivienne Walt reported on that the loss from the fire was far less than total:

"In interviews with TIME on Monday, preservationists said that in a large-scale rescue operation early last year, shortly before the militants seized control of Timbuktu, thousands of manuscripts were hauled out of the Ahmed Baba Institute to a safe house elsewhere. Realizing that the documents might be prime targets for pillaging or vindictive attacks from Islamic extremists, staff left behind just a small portion of them, perhaps out of haste, but also to conceal the fact that the center had been deliberately emptied. “The documents which had been there are safe, they were not burned,” said Mahmoud Zouber, Mali’s presidential aide on Islamic affairs, a title he retains despite the overthrow of the former President, his boss, in a military coup a year ago; preserving Timbuktu’s manuscripts was a key project of his office. By phone from Bamako on Monday night, Zouber told TIME, “They were put in a very safe place. I can guarantee you. The manuscripts are in total security.”

"In a second interview from Bamako, a preservationist who did not want to be named confirmed that the center’s collection had been hidden out of reach from the militants. Neither of those interviewed wanted the location of the manuscripts named in print, for fear that remnants of the al-Qaeda occupiers might return to destroy them.

"That was confirmed too by Shamil Jeppie, director of the Timbuktu Manuscripts Project at the University of Cape Town, who told TIME on Monday night that “there were a few items in the Ahmed Baba library, but the rest were kept away.” The center, financed by the South African government as a favored project by then President Thabo Mbeki, who championed reviving Africa’s historical culture, housed state-of-the-art equipment to preserve and photograph hundreds of thousands of pages, some of which had gold illumination, astrological charts and sophisticated mathematical formulas. Jeppie said he had been enraged by the television footage on Monday of the building trashed, and blamed in part Mali’s government, which he said had done little to ensure the center’s security. “It is really sad and disturbing,” he said.

"When TIME reached Timbuktu’s Mayor Cissé in Bamako late Monday night, he tempered the remarks he had made to journalists earlier in the day, conceding in an interview that, indeed, residents had worked to rescue the center’s manuscripts before al-Qaeda occupied the city last March. Still, he said that while many of the manuscripts had been saved, “they did not move all the manuscripts.” He said he had fled earlier this month after living through months of the Islamists’ rule, a situation he described as a “true catastrophe” and “very, very hard.” He said he expects to fly back home by the weekend on a French military jet. By then, perhaps, the state of Timbuktu’s astonishing historic libraries might be clearer."

On January 30, 2013 an article in stated that "more than 90%" of the manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu were saved from destruction.

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