Hurry up, or it’ll be too late

The Economist

As Mali’s feuding parties dither, the extremists may get stronger again

IN THE lobby of Bamako’s El-Farouq hotel, Ould Mohamed Ousmane Omar, a middle-aged Malian Arab whose life has been one of exile, rebellion and plot, is gossiping about friends and enemies. Take the Tuareg rebels, whose 2012 rebellion precipitated the fall of northern Mali to al-Qaeda-linked extremists. “They’re only in it for their own gain,” he says, adjusting the white veil of his turban to reveal a wisp of goatee. Or Mali’s new government, which, he grimaces, “knows nothing—not the north, not the Tuareg, not the problems. It’s so easy to fool.” As for his own faction, the Arab Movement of Azawad (as some northern Malians call their homeland), Mr Omar can only lament that an international conspiracy to thwart its potency has cracked it down the middle. But then again, he says, few of his erstwhile colleagues were ever more than “second-class” and “drug dealers”. Read the rest of this entry »


Death in the desert

The Economist

Two French reporters are killed in an attack that bears the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

IT WAS brutal and perhaps unexpected. Two French journalists in the northern Malian town of Kidal, an unlovely settlement on the southern flank of the Sahara, were seized by gunmen as they left a meeting with an ethnic Tuareg separatist on November 2nd, driven into the desert and executed. French troops found their corpses hours later. Although jihadists hiding out in the desert have launched a spate of attacks in recent weeks, these have tended to be opportunistic—a mortar attack here, a suicide bombing there. The abduction of the reporters in broad daylight in the centre of town required proper intelligence and planning. Several hundred UN peacekeepers based moments away knew nothing about it until it was far too late. Read the rest of this entry »


Destroying Timbuktu: The Jihadist who Inspires the Demolition of the Shrines

This TV grab shows Omar Hamaha, military chief of the Islamist group Ansar Eddine, gesturing on April 3, 2012 in Timbuktu. AFP / GETTY IMAGES

TIME.com

The charismatic military leader of Salafist rebels in Mali may just be helping to found an Islamic caliphate but he is also taking apart an ancient city’s heritage.

Oumar Ould Hamaha is a one-man whirlwind of piety and fury. For more than a decade he has —  by his own account and others — raided government outposts in Mauritania, Algeria and Niger; held Western hostages for extravagant ransoms; and proselytized a ferocious asceticism over the barrel of a gun. Riding with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, he has crisscrossed the shadowless Sahara in the service of a god he envisions as unforgiving as the desert itself. He has invoked Koranic verses to protect himself from the “evil work of devils” and “the biting of snakes and scorpions,” learned to navigate by the sun, moon and stars, and believes that meteor showers are battles between djinns and angels. It has been a ferocious transformation for a former student of accounting. Read the rest of this entry »


The jihadists’ frightening new front

The Economist

Extreme Islamists are threatening the region—and an ancient African heritage

LEGEND held that the main gate of Timbuktu’s Sidi Yahya mosque, a wood-panelled affair with metalwork cast in the shape of crescent moons, would open only at the end of time. In a metaphorical sense that is what Islamist militants linked to al-Qaeda who control the ancient trading-post in northern Mali have now unleashed. On July 2nd they battered down the ancient entrance with picks and shovels to “destroy its mystery” as part of a city-wide programme of cultural vandalism inspired by religious zeal that has left inhabitants aghast with horror. Destroyed, too, are eight mausoleums and a number of saints’ tombs. More wreckage is feared. Read the rest of this entry »


Is Al-Qaeda Beefing Up Its Presence in Mali?

TIME.com

Ali Cissé, 30, a shopkeeper, couldn’t contain his curiosity when a new wave of gunmen rolled into town. Outside the governor’s compound in downtown Gao — a dusty administrative center of adobe architecture and open skies — he saw a fleet of armored vehicles with foreign fighters standing guard. “I saw [militants] from Niger, Pakistan, Algeria, Mauritania [and] Tunisia,” Cissé tells TIME by phone from northern Mali. “I identified them by their accents because they like approaching people… to try to win their [sympathy].” Whatever their provenance, the fighters had one thing in common: they rode with Ansar Eddine, a group at times almost indistinguishable from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the regional terror franchise. Read the rest of this entry »


Mali’s Coup Leader: Interview with an Improbable Strongman

TIME.com

Captain Amadou Sanogo does not sound or look like the man in charge. But he is now the only show in town in a country beset by multiple crises

Under a sickle moon a large man with dreadlocks, a sparkling purple cloak and white moccasins climbed the stairs of the house that has become Mali’s new nerve-center. He was a marabout — a West Africa holy man — summoned by the 40-year-old army captain everyone in Kati is now calling le President. The new power in Mali is Amadou Sanogo, a career soldier whose improbable coup d’etat has upturned one of Africa’s strongest democracies. On Monday night he sought strength from the spirit world. He needs whatever help he can get. Read the rest of this entry »


As the U.S. and al-Qaeda Watch Mali’s Phony Peace, Tension Mounts in Timbuktu

TIME.com

Several interested parties await the outcome as a once-healthy democracy descends into conflict between military mutineers and their president

Pick-ups packed with soldiers zoomed toward the maize-colored building that houses the State broadcaster as rumors flew of more civil strife in Mali. There was a counter-coup. No, there wasn’t a counter-coup. The leader of the mutiny was dead. No, Capt. Amadou Sanogo would appear in a broadcast momentarily. Read the rest of this entry »


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