Islamist extremists have set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts as they fled French and Malian forces closing in on Timbuktu.Without firing a shot, 1,000 French soldiers backed by 200 Malian troops descended on the ancient desert trading post, as they tried to cut off the escape of al Qaeda-linked fighters.
But before they could be rounded up, the ragtag rebels scattered into the desert, torching homes, mosques and libraries, including the city's £16-million Ahmed Baba Institute, home to some 20,000 ancient documents on culture, science and geography, as they left.
It comes as Prime Minister David Cameron assured French president Francois Hollande that Britain is 'keen' to help Paris with its military operation to oust the marauding militants.
'It's truly alarming that this has happened,' he added. Mr Halle had not details of whether the rebels were still in the town, nor was he able to immediately say how much the concrete building had been damaged. He added the rebels also torched his office and the home of a member of parliament.
Ground forces backed by French paratroopers and helicopters took control of Timbuktu's airport and roads leading to the desert town in an overnight operation.
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