Christians Flee as AQIM Imposes Shari’a Law in Timbuktu

by 1389 on April 5, 2012

in al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Din, Christianity, Mali, Shari'a

AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) is the local branch of al-Qaeda in Africa’s western Sahara and Sahel. AQIM is taking advantage of the chaos in the wake of the current Tuareg rebellion and the recent coup in Mali to establish shari’a law wherever they can.

Islamists impose sharia law in Timbuktu; 95 percent of Christians flee, as Mali crisis deepens

(h/t: Zimriel)

BAMAKO, Mali — Mali’s crisis deepened Wednesday, as officials in the fabled northern city of Timbuktu confirmed that the Islamic rebel faction that seized control of the town over the weekend has announced it will impose sharia law.

Rebels in the country’s distant north have taken advantage of the power vacuum created last month when renegade soldiers in the capital of Bamako overthrew the nation’s democratically elected leader. In the chaos that followed the March 21 coup, they advanced on strategic towns in the north, including the ancient city of Timbuktu, located over 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) from the capital.

The ethnic Tuareg rebels included a secular faction fighting for independence, and an Islamic wing, Ansar Dine, whose reclusive leader called a meeting of all the imams in the city on Tuesday to make his announcement.

“He had the meeting to make his message to the people known, that sharia law is now going to be applied,” said the Mayor of Timbuktu Ousmane Halle, who was reached by telephone. “When there is a strongman in front of you, you listen to him. You can’t react,” he said, when asked what the reaction was of the imams of a historic town known for its religious pluralism and its moderate interpretation of Islam.

“Things are going to heat up here. Our women are not going to wear the veil just like that,” said the mayor.

Kader Kalil, the director of a communal radio station who was asked to cover the meeting and who later interviewed the Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghali, confirmed that sharia had been imposed.

He said in addition to the wearing of the veil, thieves will be punished by having their hands cut off and adulterers will be stoned to death.

In a show of force, the Islamic rebels on Wednesday drove through the town in a tank-like armored-personnel carrier, their ominous black flag flapping in the wind above the cannon.

More than 90 percent of the city’s roughly 300 Christians have fled since the city fell to the rebels on Sunday, said Baptist Pastor Nock Ag Info Yattara, who is now in Bamako. He said not one of the 205 people in his congregation, which has worshipped in Timbuktu since the 1950s, has stayed behind. “We cannot live like that,” he said.

Mali has effectively been partitioned in two ever since the rebel takeover. The fighters started their insurgency in January, but only succeeded in taking a dozen small towns before the coup. Then in a lightning advance, they took the three largest towns including the provincial capital of Kidal on Friday, the largest town of Gao on Saturday and Timbuktu on Sunday. What is worrying is that it is not yet clear which rebel faction has the upper hand.

More here.

Gains of Mali’s Tuareg rebels appear permanent, analysts say

By ROBYN DIXON AND JANE LABOUS – Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – It took just a few months of combat for Tuareg rebels in Mali, battle-hardened by their time fighting for Libya’s late leader Moammar Gadhafi, to achieve a century-old dream: conquering a huge swath of northern Mali that they see as their homeland.

Even if the rebels never win international recognition, their battlefield successes have in effect partitioned the West African nation. Neither the country’s new military junta nor leaders of neighboring nations appear capable of overturning the recent gains by the rebels, analysts say.

After a military coup in March that toppled the government a month before elections, the main Tuareg rebels took several key cities, including Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu, a stunning advance that saw the collapse of Mali’s army in the north.

The chaos has fed fear that Islamic militants will take advantage of the rebels’ success to advance their agendas, that the weak military junta will cling to power in the south, and that problems of poverty and drug running will be exacerbated.

The coup stemmed from outrage in the military over the government’s failure to properly equip troops to fight the heavily armed Tuareg force, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, known by its French acronym, MNLA.

In response to the coup, leaders of the Economic Community of West African States on Monday imposed sanctions that include a blockade that could starve the landlocked country of fuel within days and leave the junta without money from the regional central bank in Senegal to pay soldiers and civil servants.

West Africa is already in the grip of a growing hunger crisis, which the sanctions are likely to worsen in Mali, humanitarian agencies say.

Even without the coup and resulting power vacuum, the MNLA probably would have gained control of the north, said Jeremy Keenan, a professor in the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. He said the military’s resistance had largely collapsed even before the overthrow of the government, with troops running out of ammunition in some cases.

The Tuareg consider the region their homeland, which they call Azawad. Many Malians fled towns in the region this week and others stayed indoors; Amnesty International reported looting, violence and the closure of hospitals.

As people lined up for fuel and food Tuesday in Bamako, the capital, economist Moustaphe Doumbia said the country was demoralized and fearful.

“It’s calm at the moment in Bamako, but the population is beginning to be very afraid,” he said in a telephone interview from the city. “The economy is no longer working. … Everyone is beginning to realize that we are going to have trouble surviving. It is a humanitarian disaster that we are facing here.”

While UNESCO worries about the possible destruction of some of Timbuktu’s World Heritage earthen mosques and priceless ancient manuscripts, Western security analysts are concerned that an ally of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the militant group’s regional affiliate, appears to be piggybacking on the rebels’ advances.

The al-Qaida group, which has no apparent links to the rebels, has been responsible for kidnappings and killings of foreigners, destroying tourism in Timbuktu and undermining an annual desert music festival. Its ally Ansar Dine, or Defenders of Faith, who form part of the northern Mali rebellion, have a different agenda: imposing Shariah, or Islamic law, across Mali.

Ansar Dine militants, led by Iyad ag Aghaly, have swooped into towns conquered by the MNLA in recent days, raised their black flag and told shopkeepers and imams that Shariah was being imposed.

But Keenan said the group, consisting of a few hundred fighters, played an insignificant role in the rebels’ seizure of the north.

Aghaly’s “contribution on the military front is small,” he said. “What seems to happen is that when they move into a town, the MNLA take out the military base – not that there’s much resistance – and Iyad goes into town and puts up his flag and starts bossing everyone around about Shariah law.”

Mali’s new military junta, led by Capt. Amadou Sanogo, may have hoped the coup would win support in the region: It appealed to neighboring countries to send troops to defeat the rebels. Instead the economic community’s leaders said they were willing to send 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers to try to crush the northern rebellion – once the junta stepped aside.

Sanogo has said the junta will stand down and make way for elections that he and other junta members won’t contest, but has given no time frame. The coup has some support among Malians, partly because of widespread corruption in the country, which has become a major transit route for Latin American drugs destined for Europe.

Meanwhile, the army appears to have no hope of pushing back the Tuareg rebels, many of whom fought as mercenaries in Gadhafi’s army or alongside his loyalists in the Libyan war last year. With the defeat of Gadhafi, their longtime patron, thousands of the rebels flooded into Mali with a huge arsenal of heavy arms. They then launched a rebellion in January.

Having taken Azawad, the Tuareg leadership has indicated it has no plans to move south.
[…]
Some analysts are predicting a revolt or counter-coup as the sanctions’ bite worsens. Without access to goods transported through Ivory Coast, Ghana and Senegal, “we will quickly be in chaos,” Doumbia said. “There will be a revolt.”

More here.

Here’s Zimriel’s take on the situation:

…The good news is, the Tuaregs have won – opening up the first Berber state since Queen Kusayla. [actually Queen Kahina; Kusayla was a military leader] The bad news is, they have Timbuktu – putting a priceless Arabic library at risk. The *ugly* news is that al-Qaeda, having NOT helped the Berbers, are infiltrating Tuareg cities and imposing shari’a.

I’m consistently told that when Berbers are *not* in charge, they shrug off Islam; but when they *are* in charge, they’re the worst Islamists on the planet. The Muwahhids (Almohads) were mostly Berber; they made the Umayyads in Spain look like the freakin’ Enlightenment in comparison.

The Tuaregs are probably going to stay in charge of that part of Mali, and they’re welcome to it, and I hope we recognise them as the legitimate government. But I *also* hope we make sure that any recognition depends upon their setting up a secular constitution AND in protecting Timbuktu as a world-heritage site.

Mali faces sanctions as Islamists rebels advance

Photo: Jemal Oumar

Cut off from the world by sanctions and facing threats from al-Qaeda and Touareg rebels, the Mali military junta is backed into a corner.

By Jemal Oumar for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 04/04/12

The African Union on Tuesday (April 3rd) imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Mali’s military junta after coup leaders failed to restore civilian rule.

The AU sanctions came just a day after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed a wide-ranging embargo on the land-locked country following an emergency summit in Dakar.

“All diplomatic, economic, financial measures and others are applicable from today and will not be lifted until the re-establishment of constitutional order,” Ivorian President and ECOWAS Chairman Alassane Ouattara was quoted as saying by AFP.

Ouattara also announced ECOWAS was mobilising a military force to counter a patchwork of Touareg secessionists now in control of northern Mali. The head of the regional bloc also demanded neighbouring states respect the Mali embargo and stop any fuel or weapon supplies to the rebels.

He added that the international community agreed to provide military, financial and material support to ECOWAS if necessary, and expressed his hope about reaching a peaceful solution through negotiation to convince Touaregs to withdraw from the areas they now control.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé told attendees at the Dakar summit that “Paris supports ECOWAS’ efforts and is ready to provide support for it to solve the crisis in northern Mali through the Security Council, if necessary.”

Responding to the ECOWAS embargo, Malian coup leader Amadou Sanogo said he took note of the sanctions and expressed willingness to deal with the Burkinabe mediator to find a solution.

Last week, Sanogo said the military leadership would hand over control to an interim government. On Sunday, the junta pledged to restore the 1992 constitution.

However, Sanogo’s new proposal was not accepted by the Malian political class, which considered it a move to perpetuate military rule. Cassoum Tapo, spokesperson for the anti-coup Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA), said that it was “ironic that the constitution and institutions be restored while the military council, which is no longer justified under a republican and democratic rule, be maintained. And the question now is: what is the role that the military council will play?”

While the Bamako coup leaders struggled to maintain power, Touareg rebels claimed the entirety of the region known as Azaouad with the fall of Timbuktu on Sunday. Reports later emerged that Islamist Touareg rebels Ansar al-Din planted their black flag in a section of Timbuktu, just as they did in areas of the cities of Gao and Kidal.

The Islamist rebels, fighting alongside the more secular Movement for the National Liberation of Azaouad (MNLA), seek the imposition of Sharia law and have in the past been accused of working with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

More here.

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