The Islamist rebels who seized control of the Malian city of Timbuktu have announced their intention to enforce sharia law and restore order after a recent wave of looting. For now, our Observers on the ground report that the new leaders are engaging in peaceful dialogue with locals. However, some worry that they may eventually harden their stance.
Rebels have taken over a string of northern Malian cities in the past week – Kidal, Gao, and now the holy city of Timbuktu. The National Azawad Liberation Movement (MNLA), which is made up of Tuareg separatists, was the first group of rebels to enter Timbuktu Friday after the national army deserted the area [Some witnesses say members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), fought alongside the rebels, but the MNLA denies this]. A few hours later, they were forced to retreat to Timbuktu’s airport
, and were ultimately chased away by another rebel group, Ansar Dine
, led by Tuareg chief Ag Ghali. Ghali has said he wants to impose sharia law across the entire country. His group of rebels were one of the main forces behind the capture of the town of Aguelhoc in January and Kidal last week.
According to Agence France Presse
, after arriving in the city, Ghali, whom local sources say was accompanied by several AQMI leaders, asked to meet with Timbuktu’s religious authorities; he reportedly told them that in addition to imposing sharia law in the city, he wanted to bring an end to recent looting and violence
. But according to AFP, sermons were organised throughout the city praising the benefits of Islam and sharia law.
Ninety percent of Mali’s population is Muslim. The remaining ten percent is divided between Catholics, Protestants and animists.