In March, a rebel group called Ansar Dine staged a coup that gave them almost complete control of the northern area of Mali, a West African country. Ansar Dine is known for its strict interpretation of sharia law, which includes severe punishments for women who do not dress properly, adultery and numerous other infractions.
This rebel group also has tenuous ties with Al-Qaeda. Just this week, tensions in Mali reached an all-time high between the rebel group, larger African political formations and local residents on the ground. The Guardian reports that many residents have become fed up with the extreme rule of law in the area of Timbuktu.
A woman was pumping water at a well this week, a baby strapped to her back, when members of Ansar Dine started beating her because her scarf was not wrapped around her head. The Guardian quotes one resident who witnessed the attack of the helpless woman and the aftermath as residents took up arms against the Ansar Dine group:
This was the straw that broke the camel’s back…Youths immediately started coming out into the streets. They first gathered at the hospital and when Ansar Dine chased them from there, they moved to another part of the town. Youths burned tires to block roads.
Although the Malian army hopes to stage a coup in order to regain power in the north of the country, many Malian youths also feel that they have a mission to protect their communities from the stringent watch of Ansar Dine.
The African Union has urged the leaders of the Al-Qaeda linked rebel group to break off their ties with the Islamist giant in an attempt to heal the broken country, which is now split into two tattered halves. The northern part of the country is composed of desert terrain, which is often challenging to negotiate, the Chicago Tribune points out.
The African Union has also stated they would help build up a Malian military coup in order to displace the Islamist group if the leaders do not come around. The original separatist movement that had dominated the north of Mali before March was co-opted by Ansar Dine very suddenly, causing a rupture in the original plans of the Malian rebels.
Many residents in the northern part of Mali feel disheartened after the Islamist group successfully desecrated tombs of Muslim saints in an attempt to impose harsher sharia law codes on residents. Experts at the African Union who are hoping to reunite the two halves of the country plan to have an operation in action in a matter of weeks in order to ameliorate the situation for civilians.
Photo Credit: Samuel Bendet, U.S. Africa Command