As Islamists Gain, Mali’s Tradition Under Threat
Hard-line Islamists in northern Mali stoned a reportedly unmarried couple to death for adultery last Sunday. Analysts worry this is growing evidence of the rebel fighters’ avowed intention to impose strict Islamic law in the vast territory under their control.
Another version of the story put about by an al-Qaida-linked militant group is that the couple was married but engaging in extramarital affairs.
The Shariah killings in the remote desert town of Aguelhok have drawn outrage and condemnation. The human rights group Amnesty International called them “gruesome and horrific.”
The desecration of the tombs of Sufi Muslim saints by Islamist fighters in the fabled city of Timbuktu has also been condemned. The destruction has come to symbolize the twin crises in Mali. In a matter of weeks, this once apparently stable Sahara Desert nation imploded with a rebellion in the north, followed by a coup in the south.
A Rebellion Rises
Nomadic Tuareg secessionists launched the rebellion in January, demanding independence for what they call their Azawad homeland in the north.
Allies from other groups, including the regional al-Qaida franchise — known by its initials AQIM (al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) — fought alongside the Tuaregs.
They captured the three strategic towns in the north: Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. The crisis was compounded by a military coup March 22 in Mali’s capital, Bamako, by soldiers who accused the ousted president of not fighting the rebellion.
While Mali’s politicians and soldiers dithered and bickered in Bamako, the rebels rapidly consolidated their control over a vast and poorly policed zone the size of Texas, in mainly desert northern Mali.
Within weeks the shaky alliance between the turbaned Tuareg fighters and the Islamists collapsed, and Wahabbi jihadists, such as Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, took over.
Pictured: Islamist rebels of Ansar Dine near Timbuktu, in rebel-held northern Mali, during the release of a Swiss hostage on April 24.