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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Mali’s two-week-old junta rejected international calls to relinquish power yesterday as sanctions intended to force the new regime to step down began to bite and Islamists cemented their grip in the country’s turbulent north.
In his first comments since the embargo was imposed, the coup leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, warned that the ousted president, Amadou Toumani Toure, could be charged with “high treason and financial wrongdoing”. He announced that a meeting to discuss Mali’s future would take place tomorrow.
Amid fears that Islamic extremists were taking advantage of the political upheaval, three of al-Qaeda’s leaders were said to have headed to the ancient trading city of Timbuktu, where Sharia was being imposed and women were being told to wear veils. Read the rest of this entry »
Rebels in Mali completed their capture of the biggest population centres in the north of the country yesterday by taking the historic trading town of Timbuktu.
Its capitulation, eight days after a coup by junior officers in the capital, Bamako, which overthrew the democratically elected Government, marks the latest gain in a three-day advance by the Tuareg rebels. The junta said that it was seeking to negotiate a peace deal with the rebels and sent representatives to discuss a ceasefire.
The Tuareg forces, thought to be about 1,000, have exploited the uncertainty caused by the overthrow of the Government of President Amadou Toumani Touré, which has left the army with no clear chain of command. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »