Mali and the Sahel: The war is far from over

The Economist

The humiliation of Mali’s army and government is a rude reminder that the wider region is still a hive of instability

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SEVEN weeks ago Moussa Mara was the rising star of Malian politics. Picked by Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the country’s president, to be prime minister at the age of 39, he had a reputation as a shrewd and capable administrator. An eventual rise to the top seemed possible. When he defied warnings on May 17th and visited Kidal, a hotbed of ethnic Tuareg separatism in the far north-east of the country, he was met by rebel gunfire. This made him a hero to the crowds in the capital, Bamako, for standing up to secessionists seeking to destroy the country’s unity (see map). 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 »


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 »


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 »


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 »


Food stocks low, fuel hard to find: Mali’s misfortunes worsen as al-Qaeda arrives

The Times

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 »


Fall of Timbuktu to rebels prompts fears for historic treasures

The Times

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 »


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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