Am I the only one caught off guard on this? As of last week there was no talk of Mali falling into Islamist hands.

(AP) — Residents said on Monday that the ominous black flag of an Islamist rebel faction is now flying over Mali’s fabled city of Timbuktu, which over the weekend became the last major government stronghold in the country’s north to fall to the rebel advance.

The news is a worrying development for Mali, where Tuareg rebels took advantage of chaos sparked by a coup in the distant capital of Bamako late last month to claim the three largest northern towns, including Timbuktu.

Early Monday, a member of the military who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter said that he saw a 10-car convoy carrying the rebel Ansar Dine enter the ancient city, located over 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from Bamako. They drove to the Cheikh Fort Sidi Elbakaye military camp in Timbuktu, where they planted their black flag.

The rebellion includes an amalgam of Tuareg groups, including a secular faction and an Islamist wing. In Kidal and Gao, the Islamist faction took the lead early on, and shopkeepers reported that the rebels went from business to business telling merchants to take down pictures deemed un-Islamic. A hairdresser said he was made to take down the photographs he had put up showing different hairstyles because the images showed uncovered women.

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