Islamic extremists allegedly behind destruction of ancient Murad Agha shrine in Libya

Suspected Islamic extremists destroyed a centuries-old shrine in the Libyan capital on Wednesday, but the tomb inside withstood the attack, witnesses said.

The explosives were placed around the mausoleum of Murad Agha, the first Ottoman governor of Tripoli, who ruled from 1551-1553. The shrine is attached to a mosque of the same name, which did not appear to have been damaged.

Witnesses at the scene told AFP the explosion went off at around 4:00 am (0200 GMT).

Hardline Islamists -- who view the veneration of saints and shrines as a pagan holdover forbidden by Islam -- have targeted other shrines in Libya since long-ruling dictator Moamer Kadhafi was toppled and killed in a 2011 uprising.

The Murad Agha mausoleum was one of the oldest in the city, and was famed for its intricate architecture.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan condemned the attack and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice.

"The hands of backwardness, barbarism and terrorism try day after day to destroy the memory and history of the country," he told a press conference.

In March, a similar explosion destroyed the Tripoli mausoleum of Mahmud Landulsi, a 15th century Sufi theologian.