One of our Observers, Assan Midal, spent several weeks travelling around northern Mali, which is currently under the control of radical Islamist militant group Ansar Dine and Tuareg forces fighting for independence. These photos show a region completely cut off from the rest of the world.
Above, a bar in the city of Gao that has been closed down. According to Assan Midal, the former governor of this region liked to come here “for a beer”.
Like most of the nightlife venues in this region’s cities, this bar was closed down by the radical Islamists, who advocate the strict application of Sharia (Islamic law), which forbids, among other things, alcohol and tobacco. Ansar Dine’s flag, on which is written “There is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet”, was hung above the door of the bar.
Ansar Dine fighters have painted the same message on a sign on one of Gao’s busiest roads.

This is a photo of an MNLA soldier in Timbuktu. The MNLA is the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, a secular group fighting for Tuareg independence. Timbuktu is now almost entirely under the control of the Islamists. According to reports by the French news agency AFP, on Wednesday 23 May these soldiers destroyed the Martyrs’ Monument, a memorial to those who died in the struggle against General Moussa Traoré’s dictatorship in 1991. They also reportedly whipped young people they saw smoking. Tuareg separatist fighters are stationed all around the outskirts of the city.
In Kidal, the community radio station Radio Tisdas now only broadcasts sermons and readings of the Koran.