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World Mali's Timbuktu fears jihadis as France reduces troops

13:11  14 october  2021
13:11  14 october  2021 Source:   msn.com

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media captionThomas Fessy in Timbuktu reports on fears over the French withdrawal. Malian soldiers advance anxiously in the streets of Timbuktu , a historic Muslim city freed from nine months of Islamist militant rule by French forces in January. They are on board six pick-up trucks, but After a night of non-stop gun battles against a group of Islamist militants, Malian soldiers found themselves completely overwhelmed. "It is fair to say that we couldn't have made it without the French," Col Kone confessed. At least two jihadi fighters had managed to enter a small house located on the side of an army camp.

Barely a month after the Afghan debacle, lleaders in Mali have accused France of abandoning it in the fight against jihadist insurgents by reducing its forces there. France insists it’ll still have thousands of troops on the ground, angrily accusing Mali ’ s junta of “wiping their feet on the blood of French soldiers”. But the Malian president has warned that he could start looking for protection elsewhere, including private security forces from Russia.

TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) — It’s been nine years since Islamic extremists in northern Mali arrested Zahra Abdou on charges of showing her hair and wearing an outfit they said was too tight.

French Barkhane forces patrol the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, Wednesday Sept. 29, 2021. Many residents of Timbuktu are worried that when French troops pull out of the city in northern Mali, jihadis will return to impose strict Shariah law including public whippings and amputations. The Islamic extremists ruled Timbuktu in 2012 and banned music, sports and destroyed historic mausoleums, saying they were idolatrous. (AP Photo/Moulaye Sayah) © Provided by Associated Press French Barkhane forces patrol the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, Wednesday Sept. 29, 2021. Many residents of Timbuktu are worried that when French troops pull out of the city in northern Mali, jihadis will return to impose strict Shariah law including public whippings and amputations. The Islamic extremists ruled Timbuktu in 2012 and banned music, sports and destroyed historic mausoleums, saying they were idolatrous. (AP Photo/Moulaye Sayah)

The al-Qaida-linked militants who had seized control of this fabled desert center in 2012 whipped Abdou in front of a throng of people in her neighborhood. Older women tried to stop the flogging but were prevented by the extremists.

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TIMBUKTU , Mali (AP) — It’ s been nine years since Islamic extremists in northern Mali arrested Zahra Abdou on charges of showing her hair and wearing an outfit they said was too tight. The al-Qaida-linked militants who had seized control of this fabled desert center in 2012 whipped Abdou in front of a throng of people in her neighborhood. Regional police chief Ole Bredrup Saeverud told a news conference on Thursday that police officers had been in contact with the suspect amid fears over his radicalisation.

A Malian jihadist apologised on Tuesday for his role in destroying the fabled shrines of Timbuktu as he asked judges at the International Criminal Court to release him from prison. Al-Mahdi was the first person to be convicted by the ICC for the war crime of attacking a nation' s cultural heritage, over the destruction of the UNESCO world heritage site at Timbuktu . The town was occupied by the jihadist group Ansar Dine, one of the Al-Qaeda-linked groups which controlled Mali for around 10 months in 2012 before being driven out by a French-led international intervention.

“I received dozens of lashes in front of a large crowd and because of the pain I passed out," she recalled. “It was a total humiliation for me. For a long time, I felt ashamed in front of the people of my neighborhood.”

The trauma still torments her, she says. Her anxiety has increased since France announced in July that it will halve its 5,000 troops in Mali by 2022. After years of leading the fight against jihadis in Mali’s north, the French military will close its bases in Timbuktu and other northern centers.

Zahra Abdou washes laundry in Timbuktu, Mali, Wednesday. Sept. 29, 2021. It's been nine years since Islamic extremists in northern Mali arrested Abdou on charges of showing her hair and wearing an outfit they said was too tight. The trauma still torments her, she says. Her anxiety has increased since France announced in July that it will reduce its 5,000 troops in Mali to about 3,000 by 2023 after years of leading the fight against jihadism in Mali's north. (AP Photo/Moulaye Sayah) © Provided by Associated Press Zahra Abdou washes laundry in Timbuktu, Mali, Wednesday. Sept. 29, 2021. It's been nine years since Islamic extremists in northern Mali arrested Abdou on charges of showing her hair and wearing an outfit they said was too tight. The trauma still torments her, she says. Her anxiety has increased since France announced in July that it will reduce its 5,000 troops in Mali to about 3,000 by 2023 after years of leading the fight against jihadism in Mali's north. (AP Photo/Moulaye Sayah)

Just as the Taliban has returned to power in Afghanistan, Abdou says she fears it’s only a matter of time before the extremists who punished her again rule Timbuktu and other cities in Mali's north.

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France will reduce its military operations in the Sahel region to focus more narrowly on France to Deploy More Troops to Fight Militants in the Sahel. Dozens of Malian Soldiers Killed in Attacks. Suspected jihadis attacked two army camps in central Armed protesters from Mali ’ s Arab community brought the city of Timbuktu to a standstill after firing shots, burning tires, and torching vehicles.

GAO, Mali (AP) — During a grueling, weeks-long mission in northern Mali , French soldiers were confronted by a familiar threat: Extremists trying to impose the same strict Islamic rule that preceded France ’ s military intervention here more than eight years ago. Traumatized residents showed scars on their shoulders and backs from whippings they endured after failing to submit to the jihadis ’ authority. “We were witness to the presence of the enemy trying to impose Shariah law, banning young children from playing soccer and imposing a dress code,” said Col.

“I am afraid that the same thing will happen that took place in 2012,” she says, now 30 and still struggling with insomnia. “Because of this, I didn’t get my baccalaureate degree, I was too traumatized. I wanted to study commerce, to do business.

“Even now I have pain in my foot. I think a piece of glass from that has day is still lodged there,” she says.

For centuries Timbuktu has been a center for Islamic scholars who generally practiced a moderate form of Islam. In 2012 a new band of extremists, many from Algeria, established themselves, taking advantage of the Mali government's lack of presence in the north.

Soon the extremists began enforcing their strict interpretation of Islamic Shariah law, flogging women like Abdou and amputating the hands of accused thieves. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mali's militants, known as Ansar Dine, targeted historic cultural sites that they said were idolatrous, destroying ancient, treasured mausoleums that were UNESCO World Heritage sites. They also banned music.

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French and Malian troops have taken control of the historic Malian city of Timbuktu , after rebel occupiers fled the ancient Sahara trading town and torched several buildings, including a priceless manuscript library. The French-led coalition troops were welcomed by residents of the town, AFP news agency reported Al Jazeera' s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Timbuktu said that the streets were almost empty when the coalition troops arrived. "As we got deeper into the city the crowd got bigger." Malians first. Malian troops have been leading the entrance into various towns, with the French

# Mali : Photo of the covert VBIED disguised as #UN vehicle which failed to detonate or taken out of action amidst today' s attack against # Timbuktu Airport which harbors both #Barkane forces and #MINUSMA peacekeepers pic.twitter.com/tSx05 S 2LSx. The United Nations had earlier released the same toll for its troops . In a tweet, the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali announced, “One blue helmet was killed in gunfire exchanges with the assailants, a dozen wounded.” Minusma had earlier “confirmed a major and complex attack on the camp at Timbuktu this afternoon

Men stand in the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, Sunday Sept. 26, 2021. Many residents of Timbuktu are worried that when French troops pull out of the city in northern Mali, jihadis will return to impose strict Shariah law including public whippings and amputations. The Islamic extremists ruled Timbuktu in 2012 and banned music, sports and destroyed historic mausoleums, saying they were idolatrous. (AP Photo/Moulaye Sayah) © Provided by Associated Press Men stand in the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, Sunday Sept. 26, 2021. Many residents of Timbuktu are worried that when French troops pull out of the city in northern Mali, jihadis will return to impose strict Shariah law including public whippings and amputations. The Islamic extremists ruled Timbuktu in 2012 and banned music, sports and destroyed historic mausoleums, saying they were idolatrous. (AP Photo/Moulaye Sayah)

Women were required to wear a veil covering their heads and girls were no longer taught in the same classroom as boys.

Unlike in Afghanistan, the extremists' rule in northern Mali was brief — France led a military intervention just a year later that forced Ansar Dine from Timbuktu and other northern cities in early 2013. That same year, a woman was elected as a deputy to represent Timbuktu in Mali’s National Assembly.

But the Islamic extremists were never fully defeated, dispersing into the desert from where they launch scores of attacks on the Malian military and U.N. peacekeepers.

Timbuktu residents say the militants aren’t far from the city's edge — they’ve spotted the men with long beards inside their Toyota Hilux trucks nearby. Some of the extremists come into town to shop at the market, they say, but no one dares report them for fear of reprisals.

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When France pulls its troops out of Timbuktu, the city will still be protected by Malian forces and some 800 U.N. peacekeepers, mostly from Burkina Faso. French bases in Tessalit and Kidal will also be shuttered, the French military has said.

Timbuktu Mayor Aboubacrine Cissé does not hide his unease with France's decision to end its Operation Barkhane.

“Our defense and security forces are overwhelmed by the security situation in Timbuktu and the withdrawal of allied forces such as Barkhane will leave a vacuum that can be filled by any armed group," Cisse said.

In the eight years since the extremists fled into the desert, life has returned to Timbuktu almost as before. The destroyed mausoleums have been rebuilt, music has resumed and cultural events are again held every weekend.

Malian forces patrol the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, Sunday Sept. 26, 2021. Many residents of Timbuktu are worried that when French troops pull out of the city in northern Mali, jihadis will return to impose strict Shariah law including public whippings and amputations. The Islamic extremists ruled Timbuktu in 2012 and banned music, sports and destroyed historic mausoleums, saying they were idolatrous. (AP Photo/Moulaye Sayah) © Provided by Associated Press Malian forces patrol the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, Sunday Sept. 26, 2021. Many residents of Timbuktu are worried that when French troops pull out of the city in northern Mali, jihadis will return to impose strict Shariah law including public whippings and amputations. The Islamic extremists ruled Timbuktu in 2012 and banned music, sports and destroyed historic mausoleums, saying they were idolatrous. (AP Photo/Moulaye Sayah)

The impending departure of the French troops is creating fear among those in Timbuktu who have yearned for the city to regain its status as a popular international tourist destination.

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For years, the city and its surrounding region hosted a popular music festival each January that drew musicians from around the globe. And before extremists started kidnapping foreigners for ransom, hundreds of backpackers flocked here, posing for photos in front of the city's sign, as Timbuktu is synonymous with one of the ends of the earth.

United Nation forces patrol the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Many residents of Timbuktu are worried that when French troops pull out of the city in northern Mali, jihadis will return to impose strict Shariah law including public whippings and amputations. The Islamic extremists ruled Timbuktu in 2012 and banned music, sports and destroyed historic mausoleums, saying they were idolatrous. (AP Photo/Moulaye Sayah) © Provided by Associated Press United Nation forces patrol the streets of Timbuktu, Mali, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Many residents of Timbuktu are worried that when French troops pull out of the city in northern Mali, jihadis will return to impose strict Shariah law including public whippings and amputations. The Islamic extremists ruled Timbuktu in 2012 and banned music, sports and destroyed historic mausoleums, saying they were idolatrous. (AP Photo/Moulaye Sayah)

Salaha Maiga, a young promoter of a local music festival that had encouraged reconciliation through cultural performances, fears the French departure “will spoil everything that has been rebuilt since 2012.”

“Even today, the army does not control more than 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) outside the city of Timbuktu, and 80% of the territory surrounding Timbuktu is controlled by jihadi groups," he says.

It's an opinion shared by Abdou, the young woman who was publicly whipped in 2012. Now married, she said she dreams of having children but worries about what kind of life they would have if extremists regain control of Timbuktu.

“The jihadis are already here in Timbuktu, only they don’t have the strength to run the city,” she says. “If there are not enough military forces in Timbuktu, the extremists will definitely come back.”

___

Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

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