How deceiving pictures can be. This is: Two young fighters of the Islamist group Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) walk in the streets of Gao on July 17, 2012. A group of armed youths has arrived in Gao from Burkina Faso, joining hundreds of other young African recruits who have come to sign up with radical Islamists controlling the northern Mali town. GETTY
“4. How did the rebels get so far?
Relations between the north and south have been historically fraught. The north has chafed under southern rule; the region has seen major rebellions from the Tuareg – nomadic – communities who feel marginalised in an already poor country. There have been rebellions in the 1990s, 2006-08 and the one last year that precipitated the present crisis. According to the International Crisis Group, a Brussels thinktank, deep resentment was caused by stories of massacres, the poisoning of wells and forced exile from 1963, score-settling by pro-government militias against Tuareg civilians in the 1990s. The 2012 rebellion was partly an unintended consequence of Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall in Libya. The Libyan “blowback” took the form on an influx of Libyan weapons and the return of Tuaregs who formerly fought for the Libyan dictator. Those weapons and the presence of seasoned fighters tipped the balance. In early 2012, the rebels swept aside government troops in the north and started imposing sharia law. They banned smoking and music and made women wear headscarves. Timbuktu proved a key moment in the rebellion, as the hardline Islamist groups MUJWA and Ansar Dine, backed by AQIM, al-Qaida’s north African wing, took the ascendancy over the more secular group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). In a move reminiscent of the destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, Islamist militants damaged Sufi tombs inside a 15th-century mosque in Timbuktu. Ansar Dine displaced MNLA as the main rebel group, thanks to AQIM’s financial support. It has managed to recruit some elements of the MNLA by paying them.” via The Guardian: Mali: a guide to the conflict