Mali's Islamist warlord declares war on the West
Saturday 18 August 2012
Lindsey Hilsum International Editor
A militant Islamist leader whose forces have just conquered two-thirds of the West African state of Mali vows to launch holy war against the West.
Mali refugees (photo: Mike Goldwater)
They trek across the desert by donkey cart, pots, pans and blankets piled high on top. Many refugees fear that foreign forces may soon start to attackthe Islamists. "What I fear most is aeroplanes bombing from overhead," said Intinwilou Ag Hamadallamce, 75, as he waited for his family of 11 to be registered.
Every few days a bus takes the refugees to Mbera camp, where 100,000 Malians, mostly Tuaregs, are surviving the rainy season in "baches", makeshift dwellings of pliable sticks, covered in cloth and tarpaulins displaying the blue logo of the UN High Comissioner for Refugees. Aid workers say one-fifth of their children are malnourished and malaria is rife.
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In the last two weeks, militants from the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, which controls the area around Gao, stoned a couple to death for adultery in the town of Aguelhok and amputated the hand of an alleged thief in Ansongo.
Women are forced to stay inside unless fully covered and accompanied by a male relative and anyone who smokes risks a whipping. "We're a democratic, sovereign, secular state," said Hauroye Toure, a political science graduate from Gao, who fled to the Malian capital in April.
She and her family are now reliant on food donations. "We are in our own country and we should be free to behave as we wish. We are Muslims but they insist on spreading Sharia, and that's what's so serious."
In the town of Segou, a few hours drive from Bamako, a few units of the Malian army are trying to regroup. Several years of training under the US anti-terrorism programme appear to have had little effect on their skills.
We need every support - air support, ground support, logistics support, personnel support, experienced support. Dagaba Traore
"We need every support - air support, ground support, logistics support, personnel support, experienced support. We are in need today," said Lieutenant Cheickne Konate, a company commander who had been based in Timbuktu.
The West African states have readied 3,000 troops, but neither they nor the United Nations Security Council can move without an invitation from an internationally recognised Malian government. But the military which, despite a facade of civilian rule, is in charge in Bamako is resisting demands that foreign troops should first stabilise the capital.
"We've never said we're against the intervention of international soldiers in Mali," said Yamoussa Camara, the defence minister, "but their mission should be to help us liberate the north of the country, not to secure the institutions in Bamako."
Across southern Mali, militia are forming to chase away the jihadis.
On a rough earth football pitch in a Bamako shanty town, 125 young men and three women practised fireman's lifts, leapfrog and marching. They call themselves "Death Before Shame" and aim to restore national pride and succeed where the Malian army failed.
Dagaba Traore (photo: Mike Goldwater)
Other groups include the Hunters, who combine Islam with traditional animist beliefs and tout shotguns and Boer war-era flintlock rifles.
"We feel we can play either a physical role by participating in the struggle, or use our secrets and magic to destroy the enemy at a distance," said Dagaba Traore, a local Hunter leader.
All the while the Islamists are consolidating their hold on the north, using weaponry seized from the Malian army and an increasing number of foreign fighters. In the absence of government or rule of law, some fear Al-Qaeda and its allies may now move south towards the capital.
"With our collapsed state, collapsed army and security forces unfortunately everything is possible," said Tiebile Drame.
A version of this article also appears in the Sunday Times. The first of Lindsey Hilsum's reports from Mali and Mauritania will be shown on Channel 4 News at 7.25pm tonight.