Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Terror in Timbuktu: A trip through the heart of Mali

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013   No comments



I have been writing about Mali since before the military coup last March. My friend Yeah Samake, the mayor of Ouelessebougou, was running for president until the coup destabilized the country and the elections were called off.
Islamist extremists took advantage of the ensuing lack of governance in the northern region and seized control of the towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. They instituted Shariah law and brutalized the Malian people in these towns and surrounding villages. There was also an influx of insurgents from countries as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Northern Mali — about the size of France — had become the epicenter for the Islamists in the Sahel. Many of these insurgents were involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

On Jan. 10, Malian President Dioncounda Traore called French President Francois Hollande and asked for military help because extremists from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) had moved south and taken over the town of Konna, just 300 miles from Bamako, the capital. The next day French troops and Mirage jets arrived from nearby Chad.
Additional troops also came from several neighboring countries. The Islamists were quickly driven from Konna, and within weeks Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal were liberated. The Islamists were driven into the northern frontier mountain region near the Algerian border, where French and Chadian troops are still seeking the extremists.
Since I continue to write regularly about Mali, I planned an information trip to the northern region for mid-March. Mr. Samake arranged for me to meet with Mahamadou Alou Toure, the mayor of the town of Bourem Sidi-Amar, 30 miles from Timbuktu.




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