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 Fog of War: Refugees Tell of Terror, Hunger and Rape

TIME.com

It took Ibrahim Touré three weeks to escape from Timbuktu after rebels seized the desert town, but, in his heart, he hasn’t really left. The 26-year-old shopkeeper studies the floor as he talks, cradling a welter of scabs and fresh scar tissue on his right elbow. Sometimes he stops to rub his head with an uncertain hand — the unforgiving sun, maybe, or a reaction to the horrors he has seen and suffered. If what he says is true, then the fog of war in northern Mali — where Tuareg separatists, Islamic militants, Arab militias and a hodgepodge of terrorist groups are vying for control following a spectacularly successful military campaign — is concealing a grisly spate of human-rights abuses, humanitarian suffering and war crimes. Read the rest of this entry »


Clinging to power

The Economist

EVERY morning a bus caked in dust pulls into Bamako bringing the latest rumours of war. Looking dazed and dehydrated after 24 hours on the road, Mohammad Maiga explains how Tuareg separatists and Islamist militants have turned his native Gao, northern Mali’s most populous town, into a ghost town. “Everyone is leaving,” says Mr Maiga. “There’s no food, no supplies.” Blackouts last all day. Banks and offices have been pillaged by rampant rebels. 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 »


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