Mali’s army had little chance of preventing the loss of two thirds of the country. After Col Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall last year, Libya’s military stockpiles were thrown open to all-comers, turning the country into the world’s biggest source of illegal weapons.
Both AQIM and the Tuareg rebels from northern Mali seized their chance: they soon outgunned the national army.
Gaddafi had also recruited thousands of soldiers from Mali; one brigade of the old Libyan army consisted almost entirely of Tuaregs. These battle-hardened troops returned to their homeland after he was overthrown, taking their weapons with them. They duly became the backbone of AQIM and the Tuareg rebellion.
When Britain and France went to war to topple Gaddafi, they were inadvertently clearing the way for al-Qaeda to take control of a swathe of the Sahara. At first, AQIM allowed Tuareg rebels to take the lead, helping them to capture Mali’s three northern regions in April. Since then, AQIM has thrust the insurgents aside and become the dominant force in the area, acting through an offshoot known as “Ansar Dine”, or “defenders of faith”.
They have no viable opponents: Mali’s official government has simply collapsed. A military coup toppled President Amadou Toumani Touré in March. An interim leader, appointed to supervise new elections, was then left for dead by a mob that raided his office. He now lies in a hospital bed in France, leaving no one in charge in the capital, Bamako.
Even if Mali had a functioning government, the army lacks the military capability to retake the north. So far, AQIM’s leaders can take comfort from the fact that no outside force threatens their control. “If you have a vast unpoliced, ungoverned area, you can do what you like in it,” said a Western diplomat in Bamako. “The fact is that two thirds of the territory of a sovereign country is not under the control of the government.”
* * *The problem is that these Islamist warlords and terrorist just don't understand their own beliefs. We just need to send them a copy of the Arizona State University study that analyzed and believed the terrorist's own propaganda to determine that Muslim terrorists don't want to impose Islam on other peoples, but are only trying to defend themselves against outside groups. 'Cause propaganda does not lie.
Al-Qaeda’s allies have imposed the rigours of Sharia, banning alcohol and music, blocking the local television signal and preventing radio stations from broadcasting anything but official announcements and Koranic verse.
Earlier, Mr Maigar witnessed the flogging of a man and a woman in Sankore Square in Timbuktu, allegedly for having sexual intercourse outside marriage.
Djenebou Traoré, 48, left the city in May after two men came to her door and demanded to know whether any of the women inside were unmarried. They would be handed to the new overlords for compulsory “marriage”.
AQIM’s priority appears to be consolidating its control, rather than striking targets beyond the country’s borders. Officials warn this could change. “This could ultimately be the base to attack Europe,” said the diplomat.