One of our Observers in the northern Malian city of Gao managed to take photos of Islamist fighters patrolling the city in pick-up trucks. Since armed Islamist groups took control of the country’s north, images of these fighters have been very difficult to come by.
 
In the six months since Mali has been split in half, very few foreign journalists have managed to travel to the north. Two armed groups, Ansar Dine and Mujao – both of whom have ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – control all roads leading to the region’s three major cities: Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal.
 
Islamist fighters talking in front of the Islamists' police station in Gao. 
 
 
Islamist fighters repairing their vehicles in the neigbhourhood of Château.

"Young people in Gao inform the Islamists of what's being published on Facebook"

Idrassa (not his real name) lives in Gao. Though he has a very poor Internet connection, he managed to send a few photos he took on September 27.
  
To take these photos, I went for a motorcycle ride with my digital camera. I drove with one hand and used my camera with the other, pressing the shutter whenever I crossed Islamists. I did this very quickly so they wouldn’t notice me. They did catch me once and asked me a lot of questions. I told them I was just taking souvenir photos. They were rather aggressive but they ended up letting me go on my way, without taking my camera.
 
One day, I took a photograph of Abdul Hakim [the leader of Gao’s Islamist fighters] during a protest against the occupation. There were other people with cameras, and yet he came straight up to me. He suggested I might want to take photos of him and his fighters to send to Al Jazeera television. I told him I wasn’t a journalist and therefore I wasn’t interested. I never understood why he asked me this.
 
I have been threatened by people in the street a few times for taking photos. People are afraid that photos of them will end up on the Internet, because there are young people in Gao who are close to the Islamists and keep them informed of what’s being published on Facebook