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Africa

Resistance to Islamist terror stirs in northern Mali

In Mali's less remote regions, Sharia law is facing resistance. Hundreds of youths protested on Independence Square in the northern Malian city of Gao, after Islamists threatened to amputate the hand of a thief.

Until recently Islamists had only attempted to implement Sharia law in the more outlying regions of Mali, where an unmarried couple was stoned to death and suspected thieves had their hands cut off.

But now they are cracking down with equal brutality on those whose resist them in the towns and the cities.

Abdoul Malick Maiga is a journalist who works for a regional Malian radio station. He was reporting on protests against Sharia law by youths in Gao, when armed Islamist rebels burst into the studio in the middle of a live broadcast.

"They started to beat me up, to hit me with the butts of their rifles. They hit me in the back. Then they dragged me into a car, and carried on beating me from head to toe," Maiga told Malian state radio ORTM after his ordeal.

The armed men took him to a remote location outside Gao and only let him go after they had almost killed him.

Fatalism abounds in Timbuktu

The situation isn't much better in Timbuktu where Islamists have destroyed numerous ancient UNESCO World Heritage listed monuments. Hadji Garda lives in Timbuktu, he fears the Islamists will soon be introducing Sharia law there as well.

"So far nobody's hands have been cut off, or anything like that. But the Islamists continue to beat people up on the market square. Here, there is no hope, no hope at all. We live in the depths of poverty and there is nobody around who could coordinate any resistance to the Islamists," he said.

Fighters from the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group MUJWA in Gao, northern Mali. Picture: REUTERS/Stringer

Islamist groups now control two thirds of Mali

City elders have called on all the young people to stay calm and not to display any opposition to the Islamists.

"That's the way things are. Everything is in God's hands. We are pessimists," Garda said. "Here more or less everybody believes God's will must be done, and that resistance is pointless. What is happening is, after all, the will of the Almighty," he declaimed.

Local militia to oppose Islamists

But there are media reports of local militia being formed in the cities of northern Mali that are prepared to fight the Islamists. Mamadou Diawara, a professor of ethnology at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, comes from Mali. He strongly believes the militia could drive out the Islamists.

"The Islamists may possess Kalashnikovs," he said in an interview with DW. "But they are facing people who would defend their home country and are saying things can't go on like this. They don't have weapons, that's true. But as soon as they start to say no, we will not put up with this, then something has to be set in motion," he believes.

The Sahel is a region with a tradition of tolerance, Diawara added. For centuries, northern Malians have been trading with people of differing origins and religious convictions. They believe in non-violence.

"The people of northern Mali simply can't comprehend how somebody who calls himself a Muslim could hack another person's hand off. They don't understand these fundamentalists," Diawara said.

Returning to Gao

Radio journalist Abdoul Malick Maigi fled to Sudan after he escaped his Islamist persecutors.

Maigi became one of 436,000 refugees, according to a figure released by Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who was dislocated by the conflict in northern Mali this year.

He wishes to return to Gao as soon as possible, even though there is no resistance movement and it isn't safe.

"Our parents, our relatives, our homes, our dogs, are all in Gao," he explained.

He insists that God will protect him. Maigi also hopes the Islamists will soon enter into negotiations with the Malian government. Then, he said, he will again be able to work as a journalist in Gao under more peaceful circumstances.

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