Algerians arrive to support Al-Qaeda in north Mali
Several dozen Algerian jihadists have arrived in Timbuktu to support armed Islamist groups controlling northern Mali, who have toughened their application of strict Islamic law, security sources said Sunday.
"Dozens of Algerian jihadists arrived in Timbuktu this weekend to reinforce the AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) camp," a regional security source told AFP.
He said the fabled city of Timbuktu was "increasingly becoming the headquarters of AQIM in northern Mali."
Timbuktu has been under the control of Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), an Al-Qaeda ally.
A Malian security source confirmed the information, saying "the arrival of more and more Islamist reinforcements" is to be expected.
An inhabitant of Timbuktu, a former local government official, told AFP on condition of anonymity that he had seen "light-skinned" people, referring to Arabs, arriving on Saturday and Sunday at the military barracks.
He denounced the toughening of sharia in the city, which was seized in April by extremist rebels who began punishing transgressors according to the strict Islamic law.
Married couples have been stoned, thieves have had their arms amputated and smokers and drinkers have been whipped in the key cities of Mali's occupied north.
"Now, the Islamists are going through houses to confiscate televisions. Yesterday (Saturday) they took at least 25 television sets. Today they began rummaging through houses near the Grand Mosque," the Timbuktu resident said.
Two weeks ago the jihadists began going door to door to arrest women who were not wearing veils.
Mali's vast arid north fell into the hands of Ansar Dine, AQIM and a splinter group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), after a coup in Bamako in March.
The Islamists were initially fighting alongside Tuareg rebels seeking independence for their homeland, but ousted the more secular desert nomads in order to pursue their goal of running the region according to sharia.
The Islamist occupation of the Texas-sized desert region has raised fears it could become a base for attacks on Africa and Europe.
At an emergency summit earlier this month, west African leaders approved a 3,300-strong military force to reclaim northern Mali. The plan must go before the UN Security Council by the end of the month.