Timbuktu, in northern Mali, is a UNESCO World Heritage site of huge cultural importance. Pictured is its famous Sankore Mosque, built in the 15th-16th centuries. Getty Images
Islamists have established themselves in the northern part of Mali, where they have repeatedly targeted Timbuktu's ancient burial sites, which they regard as idolatrous.
Pictured, Islamist militants destroy an ancient shrine in Timbuktu on July 1, in a still from a video. STR/AFP/Getty Images
The entrance of the "Cemetery of three Saints" in Timbuktu was also attacked last year by Islamist militants. STR/AFP/Getty Images
Among Timbuktu's treasures is the Djinguereber Mosque, one of the three schools which comprised the medieval Islamic university of Timbuktu. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
Inside the Sankore mosque complex. The buildings are constructed from mud bricks and adobe in a prime example of what is known as the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style. Courtesy UNESCO / F. Bandarin
In this archive picture, locals climb the Sankore Mosque. This week, UNESCO issued new calls for the protection of Timbuktu. "Mali's cultural heritage is a jewel whose protection is important for the whole of humanity," said UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova. Courtesy UNESCO / F. Bandarin