News / Africa

Mali Rebels Merge, Plan to Create Islamic State

Rebels from the militant Islamist sect Ansar Dine in Mali
Rebels from the militant Islamist sect Ansar Dine in Mali
Anne Look
BAMAKO - Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants have joined forces in northern Mali and say they will create an independent Islamist state.  The groups took advantage of a military coup in Bamako to seize control of the territory in early April.   Resistance is growing in the north to the efforts to introduce Islamic law. 

 

In the northern Malian town of Gao, court is in session.

 

Commissioner Abdoulaye Maiga begins by reading from the Quran in the roadside courtyard outside the former police station.

 

Once an area businessman, Maiga is a member of the militant Islamist sect Ansar Dine that residents say dominates the town.

 

This morning, Maiga hears the case of a man accused of letting his animals graze in his neighbors' fields.  The accused confesses, says he has settled previous infractions by bribing authorities.  This time, he promises to compensate his neighbors for damages to their crops.  The deal is accepted.

 

The commissioner hears other cases, including those of two men, one accused of adultery and the other of drunkenness.  No witnesses were called.  A VOA reporter watched as the sentences, 80 lashes each, were carried out on the spot. 

 

Gao is one of three northern strongholds that fell to Tuareg separatists and Islamist militants during the chaos that followed a March 22 military coup in Bamako. 

 

The two groups joined forces in late May and say they will create an independent Islamic state in what is now nearly two-thirds of Mali's national territory.  Ansar Dine is already imposing its brand of Islamic law in the north. 

 

A militant who identified himself as Ibrahim says they do not force anyone to practice Islam.  He says it is Allah that has ordered Islam be practiced and that cannot be done without Sharia and an army to defend it. 

 

Although Islam has long been practiced in the north, residents of Gao are finding the hardline approach tough to accept. 

 

Women must be veiled in public.  Persons of opposite sexes cannot walk together or touch in public.  Militants have closed the city's once lively bars and nightclubs.

 

Violent protests erupted in Gao in mid-May, as frustrated youth tore down militants' flags and marched on the groups' separate headquarters.

 

Youth leader Idrissa Seydou Toure says they grabbed rocks and hunks of wood and marched.  He says the occupiers are squeezing them tighter and tighter.  He says now they cannot even have any fun.  

 

They cannot watch TV or listen to music in the street like before.  He says the south has abandoned them and it is up to northerners to push out the occupiers. 

 

Ansar Dine has ties to al-Qaida's North Africa franchise, al-Qaida of the Islamic Magreb, known as AQIM, whose militants and leaders have been spotted in Gao and other towns since the occupation.  

 

In Gao, Ansar Dine is trying to win over the population.  

 

Militants have given out their phone numbers and come to the aid of residents against attacks by bandits and other armed groups. 

 

Ansar Dine has posted guards outside the reopened hospital in Gao. 

 

Midwife Zemila Isiyaku says they work in difficult conditions, but the people need them.  Everyday, she says, they hear gunshots.  She says it is thanks to Ansar Dine that they are able to work, it keeps them safe. 

 

International human-rights groups say Ansar Dine's crackdown in the north has included summary executions and amputations. 

 

In Gao, town leaders formed an elders' committee to serve as intermediary between the population and occupying forces. 

 

Committee member and teacher Mohammed Ikeratane says they have reached a certain level of stability by taking up problems with militant leaders.  But he says daily conditions are difficult.  

 

He says the town water pump is not working properly.  He also says they only have electricity for five hours a day, and there is not enough gas for the generator. 

 

The United Nations says more than 200,000 Malians have fled the north this year. 

 

In mid-May, Ansar Dine escorted the first convoy of humanitarian aid to reach the occupied territory.  The militants manned machine guns mounted on pickup trucks.  The sect's black flag flapped in the wind as the convoy rolled north. 

 

"Embark on jihad for the sake of God," one militant said in Arabic. 

 

Ansar Dine set the following conditions: all aid must come from Malian Muslims and no international products or agencies are allowed. 

 

Mali's High Islamic Council organized the convoy. 

 

The High Islamic Council's regional secretary in Gao, Ibrahim Ag Mohamed, says aid is reassuring, but the real problem of insecurity remains. 

 

West African bloc ECOWAS has offered to deploy regional peacekeepers to Mali.  The nation's military, unable to halt the rebellion in the north earlier this year, is in shambles following the coup.  Analysts say the situation in the north is unlikely to change in the near future. 

Amadou Maiga contributed reporting from Gao, Mali.

You May Like

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid