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Islamists in Mali have begun destroying remaining mausoleums in the historic city of Timbuktu, an Islamist leader and a tourism official said.

“Not a single mausoleum will remain in Timbuktu,” Abou Dardar, a leader of the Islamist group Ansar Dine, told AFP news agency.

Islamists in control of northern Mali began earlier this year to pull down shrines that they consider idolatrous.

Tourist official Sane Chirfi said four mausoleums had been razed on Sunday.

One resident told AFP that the Islamists were destroying the shrines with pickaxes.

Timbuktu was a centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th centuries.

It is a UN World Heritage site with centuries-old shrines to Islamic saints that are revered by Sufi Muslims.

Islamists in Mali have begun destroying remaining mausoleums in the historic city of Timbuktu

Islamists in Mali have begun destroying remaining mausoleums in the historic city of Timbuktu

The Salafists of Ansar Dine condemn the veneration of saints.

“Allah doesn’t like it,” said Abou Dardar.

“We are in the process of smashing all the hidden mausoleums in the area.”

Islamists seized control of Timbuktu in April, after a coup left Mali’s army in disarray.

The news that further monuments were being destroyed came one day after Islamists were reported to have cut the hands off two people.

The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, another Islamist group operating in the area, warned that there would be further amputations, AFP reported.

Last Thursday the UN Security Council gave its backing for an African-led military operation to help Mali’s government retake the north if no peaceful solution can be found in coming months.

A day later, Ansar Dine and the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist group, said they were committed to finding a negotiated solution.

A new study shows that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half its coral cover in the past 27 years.

Researchers analyzed data on the condition of 217 individual reefs that make up the World Heritage Site.

The results show that coral cover declined from 28.0% to 13.8% between 1985 and 2012.

They attribute the decline to storms, a coral-feeding starfish and bleaching linked to climate change.

The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

Glen De’ath from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and colleagues determined that tropical cyclones – 34 in total since 1985 – were responsible for 48% of the damage, while outbreaks of the coral-feeding crown-of-thorns starfish accounted for 42%.

Two severe coral bleaching events in 1998 and 2002 due to ocean warming also had “major detrimental impacts” on the central and northern parts of the reef, the study found, putting the impact at 10%.

“This loss of over half of initial cover is of great concern, signifying habitat loss for the tens of thousands of species associated with tropical coral reefs,” the authors wrote in their study.

Co-author Hugh Sweatman said the findings, which were drawn from the world’s largest ever reef monitoring project involving 2,258 separate surveys over 27 years, showed that coral could recover from such trauma.

“But recovery takes 10-20 years. At present, the intervals between the disturbances are generally too short for full recovery and that’s causing the long-term losses,” Hugh Sweatman said.

John Gunn, head of AIMS, said it was difficult to stop the storms and bleaching but researchers could focus their short-term efforts on the crown-of-thorns starfish, which feasts on coral polyps and can devastate reef cover.

The study said improving water quality was key to controlling starfish outbreaks, with increased agricultural run-off such as fertilizer along the reef coast causing algal blooms that starfish larvae feed on.