GAO, MALI (AP) — It was payback time Tuesday in the newly liberated town of Gao in Mali, with residents hunting down and beating suspected Islamist extremists who had not fled with their brothers-in-arms as Malian and French military forces closed in and retook the town.
Malian troops bundled the men into an army truck, their hands bound behind their backs. For the better part of a year, the Al-Qaeda-linked extremists had banned music, insisted women cover themselves and began carrying out public executions and amputations in the towns of northern Mali that they controlled.
Now the Islamists’ control of the cities has slipped, with the provincial capitals of Gao and Timbuktu coming back under government authority in quick succession with the arrival of French and Malian troops. They also may have lost control of a third key city, Kidal.
France, the former colonial ruler, began sending in troops, helicopters and warplanes on Jan. 11 to turn the tide after the armed Islamists began encroaching on the south, toward the capital. French and Malian troops seized Gao during the weekend, welcomed by joyous crowds. They took Timbuktu on Monday. The Islamists gave up both cities and retreated into the desert.
Members of a youth militia, the Gao Patrolmen, went house-to-house hunting down suspected Islamic extremists in Gao. Abdul Karim Samba, spokesman for the group, said men were scouring the town for remnants of the extremist Islamist group known as the Movement for Unity and Oneness of the Jihad, or MUJAO.
“They are the Islamists who have gone into their homes to hide, so we’ve been rounding them up to hand them to the military,” he told The Associated Press.