* Hardliners have attacked Sufi sites in Libya, Egypt, Mali
* Conservatives emboldened and armed by Arab Spring revolts
* Libya has struggled to contain groups after revolution
(Adds detail, background, quotes)
By Ayman al-Sahli
ZLITAN, Libya, Aug 25 Ultra-conservative
Islamists used bombs and a bulldozer to destroy the tomb of a
15th century Sufi scholar in the Libyan city of Zlitan,
witnesses said on Saturday, the latest attack in the region on
sites branded idolatrous by some sects.
The attackers reduced the revered last resting place of
Abdel Salam al-Asmar to rubble on Friday and also set fire to a
historic library in a nearby mosque, ruining thousands of books,
witnesses and a military official added.
A Reuters journalist in Zlitan, about 160 km (90 miles) west
of the Libyan capital, said the mosque's dome had collapsed and
a minaret was pockmarked with holes.
The attackers appeared to have removed the last signs of the
shrine with a bulldozer, which was abandoned nearby.
Libyan authorities have struggled to control a myriad of
armed factions that have refused to give up their weapons
following the revolution that ousted Muammar Gaddafi last year.
The latest destruction followed two days of clashes between
tribal group in Zlitan which killed two people and injured 18,
according to military council counts.
"The extremist Salafis took advantage (of the fact) that
security officials were busy calming down the clashes and they
desecrated the shrine," Zlitan military council official Omar
Ali told Reuters, referring to conservative Muslims who see many
Sufi sites as idolatrous.
Hardliners, emboldened and armed by the Arab Spring revolts,
have targeted a number of sites sacred to Islam's mystical Sufi
tradition in Libya, Egypt and Mali over the past year.
The assaults recalled the 2001 dynamiting by the Taliban of
two 6th-century statues of Buddha carved into a cliff in Bamiyan
in central Afghanistan.
Sufism is a mystical strain of Islam which includes hymns,
chanting and dancing among its devotions.
Followers have built shrines to revered holy men and make
pilgrimages to them. Even Gaddafi, with his ambivalent attitude
to religion, did not try to interfere in a practice deep-rooted
in Libyan culture.
Salafis believe Islam should keep to the simple, ascetic
form practiced by the Prophet Mohammed and his disciples.
Followers reject any later additions to the faith - including
lavish tombs or grave markings.
A Facebook page titled "Together for the Removal of the
Abdel Salam al-Asmar Shrine" congratulated supporters on the
"successful removal of the Asmar shrine, the largest sign of
idolatry in Libya." It posted photographs and YouTube footage of
"We are distraught at the destruction of this historical and
spiritual place in Libya," Mohamed Salem, caretaker of the
mosque, told Reuters.
Salem said he had to flee Zlitan weeks ago after an increase
of death threats against him from Salafis threatening to destroy
(Writing By Hadeel Al-Shalchi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)