Islamist rebels have burnt down a library full of ancient manuscripts in the Malian town of Timbuktu as they fled, according to officials. The South African-funded library contained thousands of priceless documents dating back to the 13th century. “The rebels sit fire to the newly-constructed Ahmed Baba Institute built by the South Africans … this happened four days ago,” Timbuktu Mayor Halle Ousmane Ciffe told Reuters by telephone from Bamako. According to the official, he received the information from his chief of communications, who had traveled south from the town on Sunday. The manuscripts were being kept in two different locations, an old warehouse and a new research center – the Ahmed Baba Institute. Both buildings were burned down, according to the mayor, who was unable to say immediately if any of the manuscripts had survived in fire. Named after a Timbuktu-born contemporary of William Shakespeare, the Ahmed Baba Institute housed more than 20,000 scholarly manuscripts. Some were stored in underground vaults.