Update Oct. 19: The AFP is now reporting that Morocco’s government denied claims that Salafists had destroyed the stone carvings in the High Atlas mountains.
“The reports that these stone carvings were damaged, as you can see, is not true,” Communications Minister Mustapha Khalfi told journalists on a government organised trip to the Yagour plateau.
The Amazigh (Berber) League for Human Rights had said on Wednesday that a number of the carvings in the Yagour valley had been destroyed by hardline Salafists.”
Hard-line Muslims who adhere to an interpretation of Islam that forbids idolatry have destroyed 8,000-year-old stone carvings in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains.
“One of the carvings, called ‘the plaque of the sun,’ predates the arrival of the Phoenicians in Morocco,” Aboubakr Anghir, a member of the Amazigh (Berber) League for Human Rights, told AFP.
It’s the latest in a string of incidents in which radicals have destroyed historic and religious sites under the guise of defending religious tenets.
Late Monday, masked men burned down a 500-year-old Sufi mausoleum in Tunisia, and Salafis were suspected in the attack.
“Hardline Muslims known as Salafis oppose the veneration of saints, a long-standing North African tradition, saying it undermines the Islamic belief in monotheism,” the AP reported.
Earlier this year, the radical group Ansar Dine destroyed the mausoleums of Sufi saints in Timbuktu, prompting the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution that threatened sanctions on rebel fighters and decried the vandalism of cultural sites.
A recent report by Washington Post foreign correspondents detailed the rise of the Salafists following the Arab Spring. As moderate Islamist leaders have taken office in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, “the Salafists are pushing — sometimes at the ballot box, sometimes at the point of a gun — to create societies that more closely mirror their ultraconservative religious beliefs and lifestyles.”
“They say that the people do not want sharia,” Gamel Saber, a back-slapping Salafist activist who said he dreams of a day when his country’s courts will fully implement Islamic law, told The Post. “But that is not true. They are ready.”