Ultra-conservative Islamists used bombs and a bulldozer to destroy the tomb of a 15th century Sufi scholar in the Libyan city of Zlitan, witnesses said on Saturday, the latest attack in the region on sites branded idolatrous by some sects.
The attackers reduced the revered last resting place of Abdel Salam al-Asmar to rubble on Friday and also set fire to a historic library in a nearby mosque, ruining thousands of books, witnesses and a military official added.
A Reuters journalist in Zlitan, about 90 miles west of the Libyan capital, said the mosque’s dome had collapsed and a minaret was pockmarked with holes.
The attackers appeared to have removed the last signs of the shrine with a bulldozer, which was abandoned nearby.
Libyan authorities have struggled to control a myriad of armed factions that have refused to give up their weapons following the revolution that ousted Muammar Gaddafi last year.
The latest destruction followed two days of clashes between tribal group in Zlitan which killed two people and injured 18, according to military council counts.
“The extremist Salafis took advantage (of the fact) that security officials were busy calming down the clashes and they desecrated the shrine,” Zlitan military council official Omar Ali told Reuters, referring to conservative Muslims who see many Sufi sites as idolatrous.
Hardliners, emboldened and armed by the Arab Spring revolts, have targeted a number of sites sacred to Islam’s mystical Sufi tradition in Libya, Egypt and Mali over the past year.
The assaults recalled the 2001 dynamiting by the Taliban of two 6th-century statues of Buddha carved into a cliff in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan.