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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More