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 »


An unholy alliance

The Economist

Tuareg rebels and al-Qaeda unite to create a fierce new state in the north

GUNFIRE pierced the night quiet. For weeks, inhabitants of the ancient desert towns of Gao and Timbuktu had feared that rival Tuareg rebels would clash. Between January and March they had together waged a devastatingly effective campaign against Mali’s army, sending its last troops packing in early April and proclaiming an independent state called Azawad. But the rivalry then flared, and lawlessness and factionalism have been rife since. Read the rest of this entry »


Escape from Timbuktu: Foreigners Flee as Mali’s Rebels Declare Independence

A handout picture released by Azawad National Liberation Movement (MLNA) on April 2, 2012 and taken in February 2012 reportedly shows MNLA fighters gathering in an undisclosed location in Mali. AFP / GETTY IMAGES

TIME.com

Caked in dust and bristling with weaponry, the Tuareg rebels smiled at Neil Whitehead and Diane English. “It’s okay, we’re here for your protection,” one of the veiled warriors grinned at the nervous couple. Caught up in the middle of a war after Tuareg separatists advanced hundreds of miles in a matter of hours, the hotel-owners had tried twice already to leave their adopted home of Timbuktu. At first, retreating army columns had blocked their way. Then, when the road eventually cleared, English and Whitehead ran straight into a firefight. “There were guns going off all around us and tracer going past the cab windows, and we thought, ‘This isn’t good’,” English says, with a flash of understatement. Read the rest of this entry »


The Fearsome Tuareg Uprising in Mali: Less Monolithic than Meets the Eye

 

Tuareg rebels stand near a truck in Mali on March 19, 2012. DPA / LANDOV

TIME.com

The allegedly al-Qaeda-linked faction of the Tuareg rebellion in troubled Mali seems more of an opportunistic break than a real extension of the terror group

Somewhere close to the Algerian border a delegation of Tuareg notables hurried through the desert for a summit. It was mid-March and there was dissension among them. One of their own, a renegade desert warrior called Iyad ag Ghali, had just thrown the Tuaregs’ meticulously plotted rebellion against the Malian government into jeopardy. In proclamations appearing on YouTube, ag Ghali’s spokesman had done everything that the committee behind the two-month-old uprising by Tuareg rebels wanted to avoid. “It is our obligation to fight for the application of Shar’ia in Mali,” the spokesman said. The poisonous phrase, seized eagerly by a Malian government smarting from military defeat, undid months of careful political messaging. Now everyone would think the Tuareg were in bed with al-Qaeda. 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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