Troops Secure Timbuktu after Rebels Torch Library ; Priceless Manuscripts Destroyed in Blaze Military Troops March on Secure Ancient City

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FRENCH and Malian military forces have closed in on the city of Timbuktu after armed Islamist extremists fled into the desert leaving ablaze a library holding ancient manuscripts.

Its mayor said that the Islamists had torched his office as well as the Ahmed Baba institute - a library rich with historical documents - in an act of retaliation before they left the city of mud-walled buildings.

"It's truly alarming that this has happened," Ousmane Halle said.

"They torched all the important ancient manuscripts. The ancient books of geography and science.

"It is the history of Timbuktu, of its people."

Timbuktu, long a hub of Islamic learning, has been home to 20,000 manuscripts, some dating back as far as the 12th century.It was not immediately known how many of the priceless manuscripts had been destroyed. Owners have succeeded in removing some of them from Timbuktu to save them, while others have been hidden away the Islamists who seized Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal in the wake of a coup last March.

They imposed the strict Islamic version of Shariah, or religious law, across northern Mali while carrying out amputations and public executions.

"In the heart of people from northern Mali, it's a relief - freedom finally," said Cheick Sormoye, a Timbuktu resident. …